February 28, 2005

Math Matters - Stow Creek fourth-graders calculate their way to top of math challenge - and pizza
By DIANE D’AMICO Education Writer, (609) 272-7241

STOW CREEK TOWNSHIP - Say you've got an aquarium, with goldfish, turtles and snails, but you don't know how much of each you have.

What you do know is that you have 16 legs, 10 shells and 36 eyes. How do you figure out how many of each creature there are?

Hundreds of fourth-graders from around southern New Jersey grappled with the answer in January, in the annual 4th Grade Math Challenge sponsored by the Southern Regional Educational Technology Training Center, or ETTC. The annual competition creates math problems using the state curriculum standards for math. The aquarium problem required data analysis, probability and discrete math skills.

Students from more than 50 schools came up with inventive and mathematical ways to figure out the aquarium has eight goldfish, two turtles, and eight snails. After four weeks of competition, Linda Robinson's class at the Stow Creek Township School in rural Cumberland County took first prize, a pizza party.

How They Scored:
1. Stow Creek Township Robinson's Falcons: 430 points
2. Jordan Math Stars of Somers Point: 425 points
3. Pittaro's Math Magicians of Upper Township: 418 points
4. Wizards of Estell Manor: 415 points
5. Tran's Terrific Twisters of Folsom: 415 points
6. Barerra's Bobcats of Pleasantville: 411 points
7. The 4 Bees of Bishop McHugh Regional School: 410 points
8. Giordano/Filoon Math Munchers of Hamilton Township: 408 points
9. Kings and Queens of Pleasantville: 403 points
10. M&M Mutts of Hamilton Township: 400 points

Stow Creek math basic skills instructor, Jan Cloutier said the challenge was a great way to build student confidence and practice for the state NJASK4 test in March. The contest focused on the more complex word problems that require students to show their work, and explain how they got their answers.

"The contest showed them they could do these problems," Cloutier said. "And it's important for them to learn that there may be different ways to get an answer, so they don't freeze up."

The student first worked the four word problems on paper, then tool their results into the computer lab and converted them to line graphs and spreadsheets. They made posters showing their results, and created a display on a hall bulletin board.

Their results were also sent to the ETTC, which judged them based on accuracy, the methods used to find the solution, the clarity of their explanations and supplemental materials used to support the answer.

Kelly Massey was the first one to solve the aquarium problem at the Stow Creek Township School.

"That was exciting," she said. The class generally started working after lunch, and kept at it until it was time to go home.

She first grouped the eyes in pairs, since all of the creatures had two, then figured out how to divide up the shells and legs between the turtles and snails. She then had some real fun going on the computer and downloading pictures of legs, eyes and shells to show how she developed the answer.

Another problem asked students to figure out the original price of an ugly boogie board that had been marked down several times. Geometry and measurement were tested by a problem in which neighbors compete to create the largest garden.

"The garden was hard because you had to keep adding to it to get the answer," student Joshua Huff said.

Patterns and algebra were included in the problem in which student had to match visitors to a circus with their favorite animals and food.

"We figured out there were 64 possible combinations," Jacob Paul said.

Cloutier said it was good for the students to learn that even fourth grade, they can do problems that involve algebraic skills.

"This gets them thinking about that now, so when they take algebra, they have a better understanding of what the formulas mean," she said.

To e-mail Diane D'Amico at The Press: