December 13, 2019

Math meet draws over 500 students > Event boosts confidence in mathematics

If a school bus full of middle school students leaves Woodland and heads west toward Orono at an average speed of 50 mph, how long will it take the bus to reach its destination, which is approximately 100 miles away?

This question would certainly not be much of a challenge to the Woodland Junior High math team, which made the two-hour trek Wednesday morning to attend the Eastern Maine Math League’s fall meet.

Robert Hennessey, one of the coaches of the Woodland team, said the long trip was made for a good reason.

“A lot of kids just for some reason have a math phobia. The more tests they take, the more comfortable they get,” the math teacher said.

Woodland Junior High was one of 25 schools represented by 569 sixth- through ninth-graders attending the meet on the University of Maine campus. The students competed in individual, special round and team tests at the university’s Wells Conference Center.

According to Ellen Small, president of the Eastern Maine Math League, schools send their students to the meets because “It raises their aspirations toward mathematics.” She said three competitions are held during the academic year.

When the league began in 1984, only 12 schools participated, but Small said that more and more schools are beginning to realize how beneficial the league can be to their math programs. The increase in league membership has prompted Small to find larger facilities for the meets. This is the first time a meet has been held on the Orono campus.

“I’d like to have it held on campus and then any school that wanted to participate would be able to. Because of the size and the availability of space to have something like this, we’ve had to limit our numbers,” Small said.

Albert Fowler, who with his wife, Marian, was instrumental in starting the league 10 years ago, said he never expected it to grow as it has. He attributes the league’s success to its dedicated coaches, many of whom receive no compensation for the added responsibility.

“When we started that first year, what a wonderful group of adults came together to do anything to advance the league. People just stepped forward and did whatever we asked of them,” the Millinocket math teacher said. “It’s really a great group of people to work with.”

Fowler said he would like to see computers used in the math league in the future and that some coaches are already beginning to use computers in practice sessions with their teams.

“I’d like to see us grow as the times change. It’s real important that you give them a chance to move along with technology and not be dinosaurs,” he said.

Computers or no computers, the math league founder said the opportunity students get to work with fellow math buffs is the most productive part of the league and its meets. Students learn lessons not only in arithmetic but in teamwork.

“You get out of things what you put into them, and the opportunity to work together as a group really comes to the front,” Fowler said. “If you see kids who can’t get along, who can’t listen to each other, who can’t take ideas from other people, they’re not going to be a winning team. It’s the same in football or anything else.”

Jenny Krichels, Dan Bouthot, Curtis Young and Nathan Ames, who made up Orland’s seventh-grade math team, proved they could work together Wednesday. After the final problems had been calculated at the three-hour event, the Orland math wizards won a second-place certificate.

After considering the day’s events, including facing new challenges, making new friends and, of course, getting a day off from school, the 12-year-old Krichels was able to sum up the meet in three words: “It’s just fun.”

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