Enhancing Math Learning through MATHCOUNTS

The students of Ellis’ MATHCOUNTS team really know their numbers. They can maneuver puzzle-like word problems, work together to crack tough equations, and race against the clock while completing complex calculations. Each club period, this small but mighty band of middle school mathletes meets to sharpen their skills—and this year the students have chosen to continue meeting even though their competition season has passed. Why? Because they know that math takes practice; because they believe they can always get better; and, most of all, because they enjoy it. 
Since 1984, MATHCOUNTS has provided middle school students across the country with the opportunity to participate in a series of contests designed to cultivate confidence and positivity in math learning. Competitions are held at the regional, state, and national levels, and each competition features three rounds: a Sprint round (focused on speed and accuracy), a Target round (focused on mathematical reasoning), and a Team round (focused on collaborative problem-solving). Top scorers then face off in a Countdown round, striving to solve a series of problems in 45 seconds or less. Usually held in person, the MATHCOUNTS competitions have been hosted virtually for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, this hasn’t deterred the Ellis team from dedicating as much brain power as possible to competition prep. 

Middle School Mathematics Teacher Kristy Tomashewski has served as the MATHCOUNTS coach and club advisor at Ellis for the past eight years—and even participated in MATHCOUNTS as a middle schooler herself. She focuses each club meeting on a specific topic or skill, such as combinations and permutations or learning about the Fibonacci Sequence to improve the students’ ability to identify patterns in a series of numbers. She also incorporates videos, games, hands-on demonstrations, and class discussions to engage students with the material. Over the course of the school year, as students prepare for competition time and work through the MATHCOUNTS handbook, they have the chance to encounter a wide range of mathematical concepts (statistics, proportional reasoning, algebraic equations, percentages, etc.), as well as a plethora of terminology and vocabulary. Ms. Tomashewski shares that this provides students with an especially enriching opportunity to expand their knowledge beyond what they’re currently learning in class.

“MATHCOUNTS helps students see connections between mathematical concepts that they’ve perhaps never seen before,” she explains. “So much of math is interconnected, and, though we strive to, we may not always be able to dive in and uncover as many of these connections as we’d like to during class. MATHCOUNTS gives students the chance to further their academic journeys, and it also motivates them to challenge themselves. Any time a student experiences success on a challenge, that reinforces a love of learning and instills them with the confidence that they can do hard things.”

The main lesson Ms. Tomashewski hopes the MATHCOUNTS students will take away from their experience? That they can always get better. 

“I think middle school can be a vulnerable time for girls when they can start to put themselves in a box and think that just because something doesn't come easily that they aren't good at it,” she shares. “But the truth is that sometimes we need to stick with hard things to see ourselves as someone who is capable of doing them, and tackling challenging MATHCOUNTS problems can be one avenue for girls to stretch themselves.”

The MATHCOUNTS students all agreed that they felt their skills had improved over the course of the year, and also expressed their enjoyment of getting to problem-solve alongside other girls who are passionate about math.

“I chose to be on the MATHCOUNTS team because I’ve always really liked math and I enjoy learning new things,” says Annie Cowan, Class of 2026, who serves as the MATHCOUNTS team captain. “MATHCOUNTS has given me new ways to view problems and allowed me to meet new people. Ms. Tomashewski is a great coach and it’s a lot of fun.”

“I was surprised how prepared I felt for the competition—and it was fun!,” shares Elle LeJeune, Class of 2028. “I’ve gotten so much better at showing my work properly. It also feels really satisfying when you know you have the right answer.”

Ms. Tomashewski and the current MATHCOUNTS club members encourage rising sixth, seventh, and eighth graders who are considering joining the team next school year to jump right in and give it a try. Only time will tell how the competitions will unfold, but a supportive space to experiment with new problem-solving strategies, a tight-knit team to cheer you on, and an ever-expanding toolkit of math knowledge? Those are benefits you can count on.

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