Can you solve this math problem?
The sum of the digits of a two-digit integer is 12. The integer is equal to 15 times its units digit. What is the integer?
Ask any of St. Joseph Middle School’s MATHCOUNTS club members. You’ll find them in math teacher Molly Williamson’s room after school on Fridays.
Mrs. Williamson introduced MATHCOUNTS this year, having participated in the program while teaching at St. Augustine in Kalamazoo. Founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the CAN Foundation, MATHCOUNTS is only for middle school students.
“There are a lot of kids in middle school who love math, and I really wanted to capture that,” Mrs. Williamson said. “I wanted them to have an extra-curricular place where they could play with math and have fun with it.”
The club took off, with over 20% of the middle school participating.
“They love it,” Mrs. Williamson said. “They just keep coming back.”
Each week, Mrs. Williamson gives them a series of questions – some easy, some hard, some “really over the top, like college level.” The students try to noodle them out on their own, then again with the answers provided.
“Sometimes if you get an answer you can work backward,” Mrs. Williamson said. “There’s learning there.”
On MATHCOUNTS days, students gather after school to tackle the problems as a group, taking turns illustrating their solutions.
“I am not the sage on the stage,” Mrs. Williamson told club members. “I am not here to teach you. You are here to learn from each other.”
“People have really different methods,” eighth-grader Therese Campos said. “It’s cool to see the different ways that I could have solved it.”
Since MATHCOUNTS is middle-school wide, the teaching comes from all grade levels.
“It is interesting because [the older students] do math that I haven’t learned yet,” sixth-grader Adam Thome said. “It’s fun to watch them explain the answers they get.”
That doesn’t mean the eighth-graders have all the answers.
“It is surprising sometimes that the younger kids understand it better,” seventh-grader Gregory Garfield said.
Having fun with math is translating into having courage in the classroom. Mrs. Williamson has noticed a drop in students skipping difficult problems and a rise in students sharing their solutions.
And the students have noticed a difference, too.
“I decided to do MATHCOUNTS because I thought it would help me in math class,” seventh-grader Merlina Montesino said. “And it did. I really like it.”
Although MATHCOUNTS could just be a club, Mrs. Williamson included the competition piece.
“I think the kids are event-oriented,” Mrs. Williamson said. “[The competition] gives their hard work a culminating event.”
In January, there will be a mini-competition to determine the ten students advancing to the regional competition in February. The top four of those ten will compete in the team portion.
“It will be cool to see who goes,” eighth-grader Alexis McCullin said. “We’re all good at different types of problems.”
The competition, however, is not the focus.
“This year my goal is just exposure,” Mrs. Williamson said. “Let them see other kids who also love math and realize they are a piece of something very big and very great.”
And for those still puzzling out the math problem, the answer is 75.