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Lacey Students Tackle NJ Math League Problems

High school math team uses state and county competitions to build problem-solving skills

Members of the high school Math Team attacked six questions that challenged their skills in algebra, geometry, and problem-solving.

Hunched quietly over desks in a computer classroom, the students competed in the last of six tests distributed by the New Jersey Math League this year. Armed only with a calculator, they answered on paper in 30 minutes or less.

“It’s a great experience for the kids,” Math Team co-advisor Patricia DeFelice said.

Math teacher Mark Geiger described the approach that he, the captains, and DeFelice take to these events.

“We try to keep it very light and fun. We try to attract kids that way. We have kids that will admit they’re terrible at math, but they have a good time with math team. That’s why they keep coming,” Geiger said.

From October to March, the Math Team participates in two contests each month — alternating between tests written by the New Jersey and Ocean County math leagues.  

New Jersey Math League tests are typically more challenging than Ocean County Math League tests, said Geiger.

“For some questions, 10 to 20 students [in the state] will get something right. They’ll pick questions that truly challenge students,” Geiger said. “We almost treat Ocean County Math League like practice for New Jersey Math League."

The harder questions of the state-level organization aid the high school Math Team performance at the county level competition, DeFelice said.

“It really prepares them,” DeFelice said.

The Ocean County Math League provides students a copy of the test afterwards, along with solutions.

“They can see what they did. A lot of the kids will ask me questions if they’re confused,” Geiger said.

When the Lacey Math Team participates in Ocean County Math League competitions they travel by bus to Toms River High School East. The event is popular, said Geiger, because it is a trip and offers opportunities for socializing.

In addition, the presence of competitors from other schools makes the competition more real to students.

“When you’re seeing the other schools, and it’s a little bit of a race to get a question right, it’s more exciting,” said Geiger.

This was the case one week ago — when 10 members from Lacey competed with 250 students from sixteen different schools in the Ocean County Math League.

“There were four teams tied for first place and we were one of them,” said Geiger.

The team finished second overall in the A division. The official results of the Ocean County Math League contest will be announced at an awards dinner next month.

“In Ocean County Math League the past three years we have been doing pretty well. Two years ago, we finished in first place overall,” said Geiger. “Our top kid at Ocean County Math League was averaging a 5 or 6.”

Seniors Todd Grieb and Emily Griego are Math Team captains. The 25-member team contains primarily juniors and seniors, who have an advantage, said Geiger. Their experience in pre-calculus and calculus courses helps them with more demanding problem-solving tasks.

Team members frequently go on to study engineering, mathematics, science, and medicine, said Geiger. But some are honors or college prep students from other disciplines.

Geiger argues that math builds reasoning abilities that have a broad application.

“It’s all problem-solving. You can apply the skills and techniques that you would use to solve a math problem to daily life and to a real world,” Geiger said.

As technology has changed and become a more integral part of the classroom, teaching has become less of a rote exercise, said Geiger. This allows math teaching to focus on deeper, more conceptual issues.

“We’re able to use technology as a tool to really go into the math that we are teaching,” said Geiger.

The New Jersey Math League will post the results of the competition on their website.

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