The news spread like wildfire – Patricia Incerti’s grade threes were ranked number three in the world for Mathletics. Number three. In the whole world. Of all those millions of kids*, busy doing addition and subtraction, looking for number patterns and solving mind-benders, class 312 ranked number three. WOW!
The following week was a roller coaster of emotions – a giddy high when the class hit second spot and a crushing low when, come last Monday morning, the team discovered that not only had they lost their top ten ranking but also a top fifty spot – had kids in New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Canada been working on Mathletics all weekend to increase their scores? Apparently so.
Grade 312 responded to the challenge. Sorry Patricia, even though you hadn’t planned on Mathletics filling the week, the kids were desperate to claw their way back. And claw back they did, regaining their international top fifty spot with a respectable 27th position and then a day later, clocking in at a solid seventh.
The kids are clearly thriving on the healthy competition that Mathletics offers and the rankings have spurred a huge class effort. When I caught up with Patricia regarding her class’s world maths domination (she didn’t correct me when I used that exact term but she did laugh) she said that the best thing about the Mathletics experience is that it has been a team effort and that every member of 312 has contributed to the result.
But life at the top doesn’t come without cost. In our house, we had a bit of angst over scoring a ‘Great effort’ (which is nine out of ten) on a geometry exercise as opposed to a ‘Perfect’ (ten out of ten). Do kids these days expect a ‘perfect’ score (and punish themselves for anything less)? Patricia and I chatted briefly about what has been termed the ‘gold medal generation’ (in other words, only first place will do) and how the need to be correct is balanced with the admirable quality of ‘having a go’.
A few years ago I went to a school presentation on resilience where the presenter noted that kids at school 20 or 30 years ago, when faced with questions that they didn’t know how to answer, simply had a stab at it (I do remember my teachers helping us prepare for exams with the advice “If you don’t know, write anything, just don’t leave it blank.”). In contrast, the presenter had found that many kids nowadays, when faced with a question they don’t know the answer to, are reluctant to take a guess for fear of getting it wrong. Why? The answer was a complex mix of increasing anxiety in children, resilience issues and changes to curriculum.
There are lots of strategies for encouraging kids to have a go, and lots of classroom activities that balance out the black and white exercises that are inherent to programs like Mathletics. Patricia reported that open-ended questions that have no ‘correct’ answer are a regular part of lessons and that she often simply says “Thank you” when a student provides an answer to a question, rather than saying whether they are right or wrong.
I don’t want to finish on a heavy note (because WORLD MATHS DOMINATION) but I was wondering how this Mathletics-frenzy would play out. Would the kids get bored and stop checking their ranking every half hour? Would the morning-noon-and-night Mathletics become tiresome? Are there Mathletics bragging-rights in the staffroom? Are parents wishing they could join in (asking for a friend)? Would they reach top spot? These questions were answered when my kids logged in for Mathletics homework on the weekend – in their wisdom, the people who run Mathletics re-set the rankings every couple of weeks, giving classes time to shine, without it absorbing every waking moment for the rest of the year. So 312’s world maths domination is finished…for now!
* 3.5 million kids from more than 10,000 schools around the world participate in Mathletics.