Math: It's a Team Sport

1 Jul 2004

by Alexa Mason Carter

There are many approaches to learning math, as is evidenced by the countless math curricula available. However, when studying math, most children miss a strong grounding in the ability to think for themselves. They get into the rut of just doing what the math book tells them to do when they see a certain type of problem. This rut can be not only boring, but it can stunt their intellectual growth and stump them if they encounter a problem that’s written slightly differently than those they have studied.

MathCounts, <>, and Math Olympiad, <>, are two excellent programs designed to help students approach math in a more independent way. I was first introduced to this type of class in seventh grade when I joined the MathCounts class in Charlotte. I have been impressed with these programs ever since. MathCounts and Math Olympiad are both national math problem-solving competitions that have a goal of stimulating enthusiasm for math and teaching students to think creatively.

MathCounts is a team-based program designed for students in grades six through eight. A team consists of four students, and the competition consists of individual testing as well as team testing. The team aspect is great because it teaches students to work together and learn from each other. The regional competition occurs in the spring, and students have the opportunity to progress to the state and national level.

Math Olympiad is for grades four through eight. The setup for this competition is different from MathCounts which has only one competition per year. With Math Olympiad, there are five tests spread throughout the year, administered by the team’s teacher. The scores are then compared nationally. There is also no team round, though the students’ scores are combined to make a team score.

A common way of preparing for these competitions is to have a weekly class, where problem-solving concepts are taught and problems are practiced. Topics include arithmetic sequences, factors, geometry, probability, proportions and algebra. Math Olympiad is a more elementary, low-pressure program, while MathCounts can be fairly demanding, and thus is better for the older students.

When I entered MathCounts in seventh grade, I disliked math. Although the program was stressful for me in the beginning, I stayed with it and ended up loving math by the time I finished. I continued on to math competitions in high school and ended up majoring in math in college. Not only did I love the social aspect, the problems were fun for me, and I looked forward to going to classes, hearing other people’s ideas, and stretching my own mind.

MathCounts and Math Olympiad may currently be taught in your area. If they’re not, you can do some Math Olympiad training on your own. Math Olympiad puts out a great book that’s mother-friendly. It has hints, solutions, and explanations for all of the Olympiad problems.

These programs are exciting, fun, and informative opportunities for students to learn to like math and to gain important math skills for all kinds of future math. They are only supplemental (curricula are still needed for elementary math, algebra, etc.), but knowledge obtained from these classes will help with math even through the college level.


Alexa Mason Carter is a homeschool graduate and a graduate of UNC Charlotte, where she earned degrees in music and math. She and her husband now live in the Triangle area, where she is currently coaching teams. Her website is <>.


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