Last week I was priviledged to take my Mathletes I have been coaching all year to the City Charter Math Meet. My scholars have tried really hard to be successful in a 7th grade math league (they are 6th graders) in which they are competing with affluent students across the state of Delaware who are a grade ahead of them. Today it was their chance to prove that all of our work was not wasted.
The meet was very intense, with a set of two students from each grade of each school coming together to answer a question. With all eyes of the audience and their teammates on them, students began to panick once it was their turn to answer a question. The host’s enthusiasm added to the excitement (and anxiety) of the students. And as a coach and the adult representation of our team, I had to fight extra hard to calm my nerves and not show any emotions. And I am VERY COMPETITIVE!
Things started out fine, with the 5th graders getting their answer correct. However, my 6th graders got nervous when they were asked:
“What is the complement angle of a 6o-degree angle?”
They froze and I could see their disagreements on the stage. I just hoped they could remember the difference between complement and supplement angles (which many students struggled with when I taught them). In the end, they mixed the two angles and answered 120 – the supplement angle…
I was disappointed, but it was not my role in that meet to be a critic. Our nerves were high, so I had to be an adult in the situation and calm down the 8 students I was coaching. My students came back angry, but there was still plenty of opportunities to win, including a Jeopardy! style round, in which they would wager their amounts in each question!
The 7th and 8th grade questions proved to be just as frustrating, and my scholars found themselves extremely behind – lagging behind by 3 questions from the next place team. I noticed that they were already feeling defeated and began showing unsportsmanlike behavior, calling the other teams “ghetto” and the meet “stupid”. There needed to be an intervention ASAP.
“Scholars,” I began, “We are behind, but this round is WHERE WE ARE WINNING IT! There is still opportunity to win if we bet smart and gutsy. We have nothing to lose, so from now on NO GUTS, NO GLORY!”
They began getting fired up again, and focus and hope lit up our team again. Our school had been on the news lately, getting a lot of attention for our award-winning chess team, but nothing for the hard work directly in our math classrooms! It was a lot of pressure to win.
The 5th grade question final round came along, and the scholars bet their entire bank of 20 points. “No guts, no glory,” they repeated. They got it right with no pressure.
The 6th grade question came along, and all of my scholars’ 40 points were on the line again. An easy question regarding percents (which I covered that week) came along. My 6th graders proved themselves and confidently answered it! The pot now stood at 80 points. The other teams still still had over 100 points over us, however.
The 7th grade question came along. All of our bank was on the line. However, a probability 7th grade question had the scholars split. The question asked for the probability of picking one color OR another in a bag of marbles. When I taught this concept, I emphasized to my 6th grade scholars that they must ADD the two probabilities to come up with the final answer. However, the 8th graders were confident they needed to multiply the amounts, which is the case when discovering independent amounts (which was not the case). A heated argument arose, and my table was split. My scholar, Myka, an opinionated and extremely bright student, made a compelling argument, with calculations and explanations. The 8th graders were no so confident, and with time running out, they opted with my scholar’s answers. And THEY WERE RIGHT!!! I was so proud of knowing that what I taught them stuck!
It was now time for the 8th grade question. All was on the line, and my scholar’s had to get this question correctly and in a miracle, all the other teams had to get it wrong. The question was tough, asking a very hard percentage question. All teams were stumped! One of my 8th graders, however, had a shining moment, and confidently told his teammates to put the answer down on the board. There was a discussion arising again, and after I estimated in my head the answer (which Abu, the 8th grader had it correct), all I could do is pray that Abu would win this argument…
Time was up, and once the boards went up, everyone had a different answer. Abu’s answer stuck, and I prayed again. The audience was quiet, and all was on the line on this question. This question would decide the game. You could tell everyone was out of their seat, including the media that was covering the event. The host then announced,
“And the winner is……………………. Thomas Edison!!!”
All I could do was give a huge sigh of relief, and the scholars around me erupted with screams and excitement. The newspaper then interviewed us and in that instant, we became true rock-math stars!
There is a huge symbolism with this meet and the work we do everyday. Society automatically is placing my students behind everyone else, but hopefully the work that I am doing everyday all my scholars do what my mathletes did today – come back from behind and win!