St. Joseph Middle School has a strong math culture, and there are many ways to prove it.
Math teacher Molly Williamson’s popular MATHCOUNTS program, moved from an after-school group to a quarter-class this year, continuing her mission to “inspire kids to love math, to be enthusiastic, and to be good risk-takers.”
Five of those 15 students made it to the second challenge of Scholastic’s nationwide The Hardest Math Problem Student Contest.
“This one is an interesting combination of math and language,” Mrs. Williamson said. “Not only do they have to get the problem right, they have to fully explain the mathematics using words.”
After months of preparation and an in-school competition, ten of those kids will represent St. Joseph in the regional MATHCOUNTS competition February 2nd at Western Michigan University.
Last year was St. Joseph’s first year in the competition. The team placed 5th overall and Chris Adam, now a St. Philip freshman, qualified for the state competition. It was a great start, but what impresses Mrs. Williamson is how the makeup of the team changed this year.
“I have two kids on my MATHCOUNTS competition team that weren’t in MATHCOUNTS last year, and now they are my top students,” Mrs. Williamson said.
Mrs. Williamson’s crusade for a thriving math culture broke new ground this year with MATHLAB, a peer-tutoring group.
Mrs. Williamson approached students in her 7th-grade advanced math class and her Algebra class to be tutors in exchange for service hours. The peer-tutors review with Mrs. Williamson before each session, making sure they are clear on the material they will help teach.
“Every kid that comes to MATHLAB, I prep for,” Mrs. Williamson said. “When they walk in the door, I have a tutor for each student and something for them to practice. Everything is individualized. That’s the critical piece. It is individual tutoring.”
The results have been overwhelming.
“I love it,” Mrs. Williamson said. “The students who are being helped are relaxed and receptive because it is a peer who is supporting them. The peer-tutors are building confidence and learning how to speak ‘math’ and not just do math. It’s a great thing.”
“Going into MATHLAB I didn’t expect to also learn from the students,” peer-tutor Daisy Gaona said. “I’ve learned new methods for math I’ve previously done, and I’ve also been reminded of the work from previous years.”
“I realized I have to be good at explaining the math,” said peer-tutor Veronica Aye, whose native language isn’t English. “I used to be really nervous talking to another student since I am not so good at speaking English, but MATHLAB has helped me improved my weakness.”
“It is an excellent use of my free time, and I will continue to participate,” peer-tutor Gregory Garfield said.
All of these facets build on the group dynamic Mrs. Williamson encourages in her classes.
“As the middle school math teacher at St. Joe, I am continually striving to provide students with a comprehensive math program that supports and inspires math-learners at all levels,” Mrs. Williamson said. “I think the Scholastic Competition and MATHCOUNTS are working on a niche. I think the MATHLAB is working on a niche. I think the direct instruction, the partner talk, and the work we are doing in the classroom is building the program as a whole.”