There were groups of students in almost every corner inside
Laura Baker’s class at George
Washington Carver School 87
and a few at several of the tables.

 

Some of the 9- to 12-year-olds were playing with pawns,
while others were working with test tubes and colored cubes. They were using tiles
to cover a wooden board filled with numbers; strategically counting beads and placing
them in spaces on a large checkerboard; or rolling dice to put small colored
marbles in holes under corresponding numbers in a game called “Muggins.”

 

Test Tube Division Regardless of the activity, the common denominator was math.
Using manipulatives is how all students — even preschoolers — at George
Washington Carver, a district Montessori-based school, learn math and math
concepts.

 

“Manipulatives help students start to develop a concrete
understanding and math is a perfect example,” said Mark Nardo, principal at George
Washington Carver. “Manipulatives help students go from the concrete to the
abstract.”

Interactive IPS Math Competition Quiz 

 

That’s why when this year’s date for the annual IPS Math
Competition was announced, Baker took it in stride. She didn’t force students to
participate in drills or create flashcards to prepare them for the competition.
She relied on the work they had already put in during the year to carry them
through.

 

“We just went into the computer lab and I said, ‘Give it
your best shot,’ and we came back in the classroom after the exam was over. I
didn’t even make a big deal out of it,” said Baker, who teaches a combined
group of fourth- and fifth-grade students.

 

Approximately 6,000 youths in Grades 3–12 competed in the
annual IPS Math Competition, which is now in its 28th year. Open for
about a week after spring break, teachers throughout the district had students participate
in the online competition, which includes tests in a range of skills — from multiplication
to algebra to calculus.

 

Students earning top scores will be acknowledged during the IPS
Math Competition Ceremony on May 23 inside Anderson Auditorium at Arsenal
Technical High School.

 

Peggy Boulden-Fields, district mathematics coach for Grades 7–12,
said each test is based on grade level and has a different number of questions.
However, secondary students have 47 minutes (one class period) to answer about
50 questions.

 

Students aren’t required to participate in the competition but
Tim Jones, who teaches geometry and pre-calculus in the Math and Science Magnet
at Arsenal Tech High School, urged his students to at least give it a try.

 

“We strongly encourage students to take it, even the math
phobic kids,” said Jones, whose students took the geometry and pre-calculus
tests. “It’s exposure… It’s a way to practice and gain that experience.”

 

Like Baker, Jones didn’t go out of his way to help his
students prepare. He, too, believes the work they do year-round is more than
enough preparation.

 

“I will occasionally try to do some fun things,” said Jones.
“For me, I try to engage them as often as I can. We do pair stuff (working in
groups of two or four). We also do learning circles, where I’ll put stations up
and students have to solve five or six different problems.”

 

He views his Socratic teaching method as his means of
preparing his students for any test. “I question and I probe,” said Jones, “and
I look at that as how I prepare them.”

 

Both Jones and Baker have had past successes with their
students placing in the Top 3.

 

“We have a very high caliber of math students here. These
are some of the best math students in the district,” said Jones.

 

Nardo said, “Over the course of the years, we’ve had
consistently high performers in algebra, sixth-grade math and fourth- and fifth-grade
math.”

 

But sometimes it’s not about walking away with a win. It’s
about the experience.

 

“Everybody in my class took the test,” said Baker. “It’s a
tough test, it’s timed and you have to know a lot of stuff. But I just have
them all do it because it’s kind of fun practice.”