High School “Mathletes” Compete in Hartford

High School "Mathletes" Compete in Hartford


The Winners!


From the desk of Nicole Selmanie, Math Educator, Hartford Public High School's Law and Government Academy:

In my first two years at the Law and Government Academy at HPHS, I had tossed around the idea of starting a math club/league/team, like I had been involved in during my high school career. I struggled with how they would compete, however, since I knew that it would be difficult to be involved in a competition outside of Hartford, and it would also be very devastating to my kids to compete with many other schools in CT that are far above their skill level. This year, in my third year, I decided to start the after school club anyway, and see where it took me. The more I heard about interventions and the constant pressure for alternative plans for kids who are performing below grade level, however, the more I wanted the after school group to serve as something more than simply enrichment for kids who already are good at and enjoy math. I decided that if there was no competition suitable for us at this point, we would create our own.

My colleague, Barb Maidelis, joined the initiative and we proposed the idea as a district-wide program to the district that explained the goals and benefits of such a program, and the estimated cost if fully funded. The idea was that schools would host weekly practices for their team, and students from any skill level would be encouraged to join. Teachers who had concerns about students could even recommend them for the team. At practice, students work on things they need to improve, and topics that push them just above where they currently land. Then, at the district competition, they play to their strengths and compete in rounds that they are good at. Competitions includes 13 rounds that are based on a specific math topic, such as functions, trigonometry, logic, mental math, etc. Throughout the day, students also completed group tasks on their school teams, as well as challenge problems, that earned their teams extra points. At the end of the day, LGA won the competition, but both the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology at HPHS and High School, Inc. were not far behind.

This initiative aims to push students already excelling in math to master material that they have not yet seen, while it serves as an intervention for students who aren't good at it yet, or don't enjoy math very much. It has worked beautifully for LGA, as students feel a connection with the two advisors on the team, and like learning in a no-pressure environment after school. The older students also serve as role models and tutors for the younger/lower skilled students. 

For more information about Mathletes, please contact Nicole Selmanie, selmn001@hartfordschools.org


In Hartford, A Range Of Math Skills, But All 'Mathletes'

Story By VANESSA DE LA TORRE, vdelatorre@courant.com The Hartford Courant

7:48 p.m. EST, January 9, 2014

HARTFORD — A group of city teenagers spent much of the school day Thursday taking timed exams on math topics such as statistics and probability — for fun.

Many wore their new buttons with pride: "Hartford MATHLETES Competition January 2014."

The relaxed, first-time event in downtown was devised by two math teachers at Hartford Public High School with a shoestring budget and an idea that germinated last fall. Nicole Selmanie and Barbara Maidelis, who teach at the school's Law and Government Academy, wanted to start a math team to support students talented in the subject.

That idea soon morphed to include struggling students who are testing below grade level, Selmanie said, for a focus on both enrichment and intervention.

In October, nearly 10 Law and Government students with a range of math skills began meeting weekly after school to solve problems "in sort of a no-pressure environment," where advanced students helped tutor the beginners, Selmanie said. Club advisers provided snacks that they bought or baked themselves, and for a time, gave rides and bus money to get students home.

Natasha Ruiz, 16, a junior who is enrolled in precalculus, said she and others helped spread the word through posters, fliers and friendly pleas to "join the math team!" Eventually, the academy's team grew to about 16 "mathletes."

At some point, Maidelis said, the club had an a-ha moment: "'Ooh, let's get other schools to do this, too, and let's compete with them!' That took it to the next level. The kids got really excited about that. … At this age, they love competition."

On Thursday, about three months after the first math meet-ups, roughly 30 students from Law and Government Academy, High School Inc. and Hartford Public's Academy of Engineering and Green Technology gathered at 100 Constitution Plaza for 13 rounds of math — the difficulty ranging from basic geometric angles to trigonometry and functions.

Five city high schools were originally recruited to participate, although two dropped out at the last minute because of a conflict with midterm exams, organizers said.

Some of the competition rules: Students choose three math topics they feel comfortable tackling; group totals decide which school is the winner; individual scores, tallied by teachers at the event, are not announced to avoid any embarrassment or extra stress for students. Back at their schools, each of the mathletes will learn how they did.

Law and Government math teachers said they've noticed development beyond test scores.

"Not only have they improved, I think they've gotten confident," said Maidelis, who had a career in insurance before becoming a teacher in Hartford; she is in her second year. "Perseverance. If you're thinking you're good at it, you'll keep plugging away, you'll keep working, you know? You won't feel defeated."

Kimani Thompson, a Law and Government freshman, planned to compete in the probability, numeracy and "mental math" rounds Thursday. Mental math means that the students can't use calculators.

The 15-year-old said he has tested below his grade level in math, but is working toward a goal.

"At the end of the year, I want to be comfortable doing math without getting frustrated or angry," Thompson said. "Because sometimes when I'm doing math, I get frustrated and angry and just walk away. That's one of my main subjects right now … not getting frustrated and just working on math."

Selmanie, who is in her third of teaching, said she is hoping to draw more Hartford teachers who would be willing to lead math teams at their own schools. She knows it's not easy — after struggling with after-school transportation, her mathletes now receive a bus pass through Hartford Public High School's Owl Enrichment Center, an after-school program managed through the Hartford Public Library.

Organizers want to have another competition in May, perhaps with a dozen city schools, if they have enough funding. They scraped together $250 for Thursday's event, in part for snacks and small trophies awaiting the victors. Law and Government administrators absorbed the cost for the day's bus transportation from the school's budget.

"Hey, kids doing math for fun? By choice?" Selmanie said. "I'll take it."

And those trophies? Awarded Thursday afternoon to Ruiz, Thompson and the group from Law and Government Academy.

Click here to see original story in the Hartford Courtant, with photographs.

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