Becoming a MathsMatters Whiz

Ability to communicate and collaborate in a team environment. Can think creatively, flexibly and strategically to solve complex problems. Can handle the pressure of time limits. A sound knowledge of mathematic strategies… What do all of these things have in common you ask? They are the characteristics of a MathsMatters whiz - that’s what.

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Wairakei Primary School supports a group of selected up and coming Year 5 and Year 6 mathematical experts in a 7-8 week training programme to compete in the local contest, MathsMatters. MathsMatters is an annual inter-school maths team competition run by Taupo Intermediate School on the evening of Wednesday, September 16 where teams of three work together to solve a range of problems across mathematical disciplines. The school selects students based on their mathematic assessments and their personality traits to work together and contribute to a team. Sometimes talented Year 4 students are selected to enter, as part of a Year 5 team, and the goals is to take the Year 4/5 students from the previous year through the following year in a Year 6 team. The 21 students involved in the 2020 teams are building complex thinking and processing skills and using their comprehension skills to solve relevant, real-life mathematical problems.

I wanted to get involved in MathsMatters because it’s pretty fun. After doing it last year, I might have a chance at getting another medal. Fergus F (Year 6)

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Being part of a MathsMatters team provides an extension opportunity for our students who have particular maths and problem solving skills, to apply their abilities against other likeminded students who share the same abilities and interests. Our students enjoy the authentic learning experience they get, which also has a competitive edge to it. We extend the learning outside of the school for these students too, providing a platform for students to access more of the curriculum through our purpose built Extension Google Site, which contains links to New Zealand maths websites with problems to try and games to play.

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Every week, one of our staff get each group of students together for a training session to prepare them for competition night. The training, which lasts 45-60 minutes, is comprehensive and the focus isn’t just about working out the correct answer. Students are taught how to work collaboratively as a team, with the motto that “three heads are better than one”. They are required to think creatively, flexibly and strategically to solve various mathematical problems. Students are guided to critically source exactly what the problem is actually asking, before applying their knowledge of mathematical strategies to solve the problem.

If you aspire to be part of a MathsMatters team then my advice would be - be collaborative and interact with others­­­­­­. Jack S (Year 6)

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The training, which becomes more frequent closer to event night, involves getting the students to work together on past MathsMatters quiz questions. They are then prompted with questions by our staff to develop their communication and cooperation skills to get them thinking, talking, listening and negotiating with each other. Confidence boosting also comes into play as students are supported to trust themselves and the rest of their team to find the solution to the problem.  

The thing I get the most about the MathsMatters training is that we are working in our groups that we will compete with. Ava M (Year 5)

The students have been getting examples from past MathsMatters competitions to practise on and running mock competitions. Students are taught how to run the process with a time pressure component. In order to help them practise the strategy required for the MathsMatters format we have been teaching them a four-step process to work through for each question. This gives our students a consistent problem-solving technique to apply to each question. The steps are:

  • Read and understand the question. What’s being asked of you? If you aren’t sure then you need to stop and read it properly.
  • Select a mathematical strategy to use to work out the problem.
  • Implement the mathematical strategy.
  • Go back and check that you have answered the question. Is your answer correct? If not – then go back and repeat the process.  

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We are teaching our students that if they have been trying a strategy for 10 minutes and it’s not working, then to go back to the start of the process and check that they have read and understood the question properly and then work together to select another strategy to try. This technique forms the basis of fundamental problem solving and we encourage the students to apply the same process for any other situation that requires the application of problem-solving skills.

I enjoy working in a MathsMatters team because you don’t have to do all the work yourself. You get to hang out and work with other people. Emily K (Year 5)

All of the training culminates in the teams competing for a place on the podium on the event night. The format of the evening is unique where each of the teams are given one question at a time. Once they get the answer correct, or choose to pass on a question, then they receive the next question. The allocation of points depend on how many attempts the students have had to get the correct answer.  There are 20 questions and students complete as many questions as they can in the 50 minute time limit.

This year we have entered three Year 5 teams and four Year 6 teams. We are looking forward to showing our support of our local contributing school in their fundraiser - while our students get the enjoyment of representing our school out in the community.

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