kitchen table math, the sequel: Competitions and Scores?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Competitions and Scores?

I found this when I was investigating math competitions. It refers to the American Mathematics Competition.

"Major universities such as MIT are beginning to ask applying students for their AMC scores. Since the AMC tests a deeper level of math than the SAT, this can help identify students who are ready for a rigorous undergraduate curriculum."

Has anyone seen this requirement? My son's high school just has a club for the Math League. Any comments on this competition? I assume that the only way to compete in AMC is if the school participates. His school also participates in the Academic Decathlon. Any comments on this competition? Perhaps I should open up the question to any type of academic club and comments on whether it was worthwhile or not. How about groups or competitions that don't require the involvement of a school?

My son likes the Science Olympiad (middle school), but the high school doesn't continue on. It has nothing for science.

34 comments:

Crimson Wife said...

That seems rather unfair to kids who attend an ultra-competitive high school. They may be perfectly capable of doing the work at a place like MIT but fall just a bit short of making their school's math team. The #11 (or whatever) math student at certain schools might absolutely be #1 at the overwhelming majority of other high schools.

Cranberry said...

The AMC is a national exam. As such, it would be a great help to a student at a very competitive high school, as it would allow her performance to be compared to the national pool, where it might be very strong indeed.

SteveH, if your school doesn't offer it, you could offer to sponsor it for the school. From the website:

#4. What if my school doesn’t offer the AMC tests?
A. Urge your principal, math teacher, gifted education coordinator or anyone else you can think of to help you out and register for the contest. If your school doesn’t offer the AMC tests to you, then one option would be to offer the tests to your school. You could offer to pay for the registration and material cost for the school, making it hard for them to refuse. Please make arrangements at your school to register as we must send the contest materials to the school directly. Many colleges and universities also host the contests, particularly the “B” date of the AMC 10/12. Check our web pages for a list of participating Institutions of Higher Learning.


http://www.unl.edu/amc/f-miscellaneous/faq.shtml

Anonymous said...

I haven't heard that either, but nobody tells me anything from the high school.

Our school had all of the honors math students take it. However, they didn't prep them or mention anything about it earlier, at least not to us parents. I signed the permission slip the morning that he took it.

If I had known I would have at least printed out the practice problems at the website. My son was the high scorer for his class, but he didn't make it to the next level, which opens you up to other competitions. He said that he made some dumb mistakes that might have been avoided if he had looked at some representative problems.

Our high school has a competitive math team, so I just assumed they would work on some of this. They didn't, so I'm going to have to look into it myself, once again.

If they only allow schools, what happens to homeschoolers? Maybe there is some provision for them and for people whose schools don't participate.

SusanS

ChemProf said...

I don't think it is a requirement, SteveH, but something that they ask you to provide if you have them. In other words, they won't necessarily reject a student who didn't take it, but if a student has the scores, the college wants to see them.

Crimson Wife said...

My alma mater only allowed the kids on the math team to participate in AMC, Mathcounts, Math Olympiad, etc. I was on the math team my freshman & sophomore years but didn't make the cut the final 2 years of high school (we had to try out every year).

SteveH said...

So, AMC is just a test that individuals take, and you have to be in the very top to go to the USAMO competition? There appears to be a variety of things that are called math olympiads.

I guess I have a lot of homework to do.


"Our high school has a competitive math team, ..."

Susan, what does your school compete in? What is it called? Our school competes in the Math League, but I suppose they could have them take the AMC test. I'll have to ask. I was thinking that the AMC competition involved local, state, and national events; you know, competitions, not just a test.

SteveH said...

Is the Science Olympiad the big competition in high school science?

It's interesting how the three middle schools that feed into our high school all do very well in the Science Olympiad, but once they get to high school, ... nothing.

nick said...

Yes, the AMC is probably the most prestigious and widespread mathematics examination in high school. It is much more of an examination than a competition, but this is because the AMC is just the first round of a series of math exams hosted by the MAA. Students who pass the AMC go on to take the American Invitational Mathematics Exam, the USA Math Olympiad, and from the highest scorers of the USA Math Olympiad, six students are selected to be part of the USA team which competes at the International Math Olympiad, which is basically the most prestigious competition in mathematics.

As a high school student, I know that such "exams" aren't nearly as fun as actual competitions. However, students who take a serious interest in mathematics tend to be drawn to the AMC for it's challenging problems and emphasis on problem solving.

Anonymous said...

If you are aiming to prepare your student for the AMC, the Art of Problem Solving site has some preparation material.

Lisa said...

Unfortunately never heard of it. My kids high school doesn't have any academic teams. They even quit Speech and Debate when my daughter was a Jr. I'll keep the exam in mind for my son.

lgm said...

In our experience, the worthwhile clubs and competitions are the ones that lead to personal development, friendships, and merit the time invested.

Math League is usually worthwhile, as it will develop problem solving abilities and doesn't require a huge time committment.

Our school has nothing for science either, despite a thriving science fair league and some FIRST Lego League teams among the high schools around us. The tyranny of the majority who don't value academics and extracurriculars is not appreciated by me. I'm just very tired of pouring money into school sports instead of academics when there are community sports available that will take the superstar athlete to the Olympic levels.

VickyS said...

Canada also has Math Competitions, administered by the University of Waterloo. Most are for Canadian students, but their 12th grade competition, Euclid, can be taken by Americans too and is important for admission into Waterloo which is a top math/computer science university.

There is also a worldwide computer science competition. Here is the site for the USA Computer Olympiad which conducts 6 internet contests. The world competition will be in Waterloo Canada this year.

SteveH said...

"It is much more of an examination than a competition,"

Thanks Nick. It's starting to sink in. Do high schools that offer the AMC test have students involved in some other sort of math competition or event where they compete as a team?


Then there is the problem that SusanS gave:

"Our high school has a competitive math team, so I just assumed they would work on some of this. They didn't, so I'm going to have to look into it myself, once again."

Wow! You think that schools would know that students who are on a math team want to put their efforts towards the most important goal.
I can't say that I like some of the sample questions I've seen on the AMC test terms of emphasis, but if AMC is really that big, I can't see how schools can ignore it.


"the Art of Problem Solving site "

I just found it yesterday. More books to order!

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Our school has a math team, but it might be something else more official. I'll check the next permission slip.

Years ago, I heard that our school had an excellent math team. My son joined this year as a freshman, but the school offered extra credit in math courses if kids joined, so there are a lot of kids who are just there for that reason. They all compete which means they tend to come in last place against all of the big, affluent suburban high schools.

My understanding about AMC is that it is the gateway test to other tests. I don't know what my son's score was, but he missed the cutoff for the next level. There's AMC 10 for freshman/soph and AMC 12 for juniors/ seniors. I believe there's an AMC 8 for middle schoolers now, but I was too busy trying to get Mathcounts in our middle school.

The Wissner-Gross book goes into a lot of this which is very helpful. Another competition that is fairly easy to enter is Math Kangaroo. It's an international one, but my son's tutor was recommending that one. He actually won it one year.

SusanS

Anonymous said...

Also, a year ago I mentioned the Olympiads to my son's biology teacher. We have Science Olympiad, but that's about it. She said that if I wanted to pursue it with my son (I was thinking of the Biology Olympiad down the road), then she would help and sponsor him if need be. I've been too distracted with all the other things so that had to drop by the wayside. But I was glad there was a teacher who would help out even if the school wasn't doing it officially.

Still, it helps if the school already has something in place.

If anyone knows of a camp that sharpens these kinds of problem solving and math contest skills, I would love to hear about it.

SusanS

Allison said...

The DIMACS camps sharpen problem solving, since lots of the problems in these cases are discrete math problems.DIMACS is in NJ near Rutgers.

Allison said...

http://www.ams.org/employment/mathcamps.html

I was wrong; it was a Rutgers camp, but it's the DIMACS folks.

SteveH said...

"I'm just very tired of pouring money into school sports instead of academics when there are community sports available that will take the superstar athlete to the Olympic levels."

I guess I don't mind the sports money so much, but I do mind that our high school puts very little effort into extracurricular academic clubs and teams. It doesn't cost much. They claim that anyone can petition to start a club, but I consider that a copout when it comes to basic academic clubs.

Perhaps it's a chicken and egg sort of thing, but the onus shouldn't be on the kids and parents. The school is supposed to know what's important. How difficult is it to (at least) provide the AMC tests and offer some after-school prep classes?

I noticed with the Science Olympiad competition that some schools continue to do well year after year. This is not because they have better students. It's because they are organized and get the parents involved.

When my son was in a private school in fifth grade, another parent and I started a First Lego League group at the school. They ended up winning several awards. My son left the school after that year and the other parent didn't continue because he didn't get much support from the school, which wasn't much to begin with. But the school really loved to hang the awards on the wall.

nick said...

"How difficult is it to (at least) provide the AMC tests and offer some after-school prep classes?"
FYI, it costs about $40 to register for the AMC and then $16 per bundle of ten exams.

"our high school puts very little effort into extracurricular academic clubs and teams"
One of the biggest problems that our academic teams face is that there's not really a consistent inflow of students that wish to join the team each year. One competition that you may want to look at is the National Science Bowl, a really fun quizbowl competition with science questions. It involves teams of 5 instead of 15 for Science Olympiad, and our school formed at team a few years ago without too much difficulty at all.
http://www.scied.science.doe.gov/nsb/

"Do high schools that offer the AMC test have students involved in some other sort of math competition or event where they compete as a team?"
I go to high school in southern California, and our team goes to several different math competitions each year. Depending on where you live, there may be some competitions in your area, but the only national "math competition" I know of is the Americal Regions Math League. However, it requires teams of 15, and teams are typically formed by region, not high school.
http://www.arml.com/

Just wanted to insert my two cents right here, but I think that while math competitions do a good job getting students excited about math, it is exams like the AMC/AIME/USAMO that avid math students learn the most from. The difference(to me) is that math competition problems place an emphasis on answering questions, while exams like the AIME, when a student is given 3 hours for 15 problems, challenge students to really understand mathematics and solve greater problems. That's just my opinion though.

"if AMC is really that big, I can't see how schools can ignore it."
A lot of school do not offer it, and in the past few years, the number of students taking the test has slightly declined. I am almost certain that it is the "exam" nature of the AMC that makes it less popular to administer. It's a tough test, and not exciting to most students(FYI the mean score on the AMC 12 this year was about 60 of 150 points).

lgm said...

>>"How difficult is it to (at least) provide the AMC tests and offer some after-school prep classes?"

The blocker here is that district employee has to sponsor it, and this person has to be paid a stipend. Most that are willing are already sponsoring and/or coaching something.

You might have better luck with it offered through the district's continuing education program. That would give a wider pool of instructors to draw from.

Anonymous said...

Hey Nick,

Thanks for stopping by. Please come by more often. We need people on the "inside." heh. Things are a lot different in high schools than when many of us attended.

My own personal experience with our high school was that I couldn't get info on when academic teams were meeting. It was a nightmare. Nothing was posted on the school website and the coaches had not updated their personal sites. My son was running around looking for upper classmen to find out when the various teams met. This could explain why a lot of kids don't join at some schools. Things are very disorganized at some schools and those 21st Century skills only seem to apply to students. Since his stats teacher was a math team coach, he was finally able to get info on when they met and what the competition schedule was. He couldn't find Science Olympiad for weeks and ended up doing another science club.

SusanS

SteveH said...

Thanks Nick.

I was never big on math competitions. My general impression is that it's overkill on lower level stuff because the students haven't had what I think is much more interesting material yet. I would rather see that effort used for acceleration of material.


"FYI the mean score on the AMC 12 this year was about 60 of 150 points"

I can see how that might be counter-productive. In the Science Olympiad, it can be exciting to be part of a team even if you don't do so well. Not so useful, perhaps, but more exciting.


"The Wissner-Gross book goes into a lot of this which is very helpful."

That's what got me started on all of this. She provides some warning anecdotes if you ignore the AMC test. I think the spin is a little too much, but then again, if I read that some colleges want to see some your AMC number, I'm not about to ignore it.

I guess my concern has more to do with the best use of my son's time. If he chooses to join some sort of after-school math or science team, I want his effort to be in the right direction. Susan's anecdote concerns me. I don't want my son to put in a lot of effort only to find out later that it would have been better applied in another direction. Also, what fields and departments do the top AMC students go into? Students might find that good AMC scores have little impact on what they want to do.

Does the AMC have a more theoretical rather than an applied emphasis? People talk about the art of problem solving, but are these problems theoretical or applied? I do a whole lot of problem solving in topology now, but it's a very long distance from the theoretical end of the topic.

SteveH said...

"Nothing was posted on the school website and the coaches had not updated their personal sites. My son was running around looking for upper classmen to find out when the various teams met."

Oh No! This is exactly what I am concerned about. I don't even know if the list is accurate. (I've seen different ones.) I was just thinking that we will have to track down some upperclassmen.

Schools talk about 21st century skills, but they don't keep the web site up to date. There is virtually nothing posted about the clubs at the high school.

" and this person has to be paid a stipend "

Interestingly, I know this because when I Googled specific clubs at our high school, all I could find were meeting notes showing how much each teacher was paid.

nick said...

"Also, what fields and departments do the top AMC students go into?"
Of students passing the AMC test(top 5%), you'll find people going on to study basically any subject in math, science, or engineering. However, the higher up you go, more and more students study pure mathematics.

I would guess that the AMC is more theoretical. At the USA Math Olympiad, students are given 9 hours to solve six problems, writing up full solutions to each one. There's a lot of number theory, set theory, geometry, and combinatorics, which is all fairly abstract and non-applied.

"Students might find that good AMC scores have little impact on what they want to do."
This is very true. AMC scores are hardly indicative of mathematical knowledge. I know a lot of smart students that get 800s on SAT math and study advanced mathematical concepts but do not pass the AMC. It is the people with a knack for "problem solving" and good intuition that tend to do well on the test.
"I don't want my son to put in a lot of effort only to find out later that it would have been better applied in another direction."
That's been one of the many joys of high school for me. You get to try out a lot of different things, and some dont turn out so well. But hey, four years is a lot of time.

lgm said...

>>when I Googled specific clubs at our high school, all I could find were meeting notes showing how much each teacher was paid.

Aye. Skip the chasing after the underclassmen, and just go straight to calling or e-mailing the teacher to find out the club meeting and get your questions answered. Most of them want participation so they don't get cut when budgets become tight.

SteveH said...

"problem solving"

I would argue that there is problem solving and there is problem solving. As you move more to the theoretical end of the spectrum, do you call it problem solving anymore? I'm being picky, but it seems that the AMC contest is really for a small subset of math students.
I assume that those who get 800s on the SAT, but do not pass the AMC, are not concerned. (By the way, how many questions (%) can you get wrong and still get an 800?)


"You get to try out a lot of different things, and some dont turn out so well. But hey, four years is a lot of time."

This is not the mantra of the Wissner-Gross book on what high schools don't tell you (not that I agree with her). She says that high school is really not long at all and that you have to have a plan. I guess it all depends on the number of details in the plan and whether you are flexible or not. Right now, I'm collecting as much information as I can to make sure that the different things my son does will not be a waste of time and that he will be able to know what the choices are. As Susan says, that appears to be a big problem. It's one thing to find out that you really prefer chemistry over math, but quite another to like a subject, but find you really should have been doing something else in that field.

So, I guess the answer for me is that unless my son is interested in pure math, He shouldn't worry about the AMC tests. Then again, I'm not adverse to having him give it a try. It's not a large time commitment.

I guess my view of time is quite different. Time is nonlinear. As you get older, time speeds up. Although my son starts high school next year, I know it will be over in a flash. I know that there will be too many things he will want to do. We need more information to make the proper choices. The best (worst?) anecdotes from the book have to do with kids and parents who don't know about something until it's too late.

Allison said...

re: there's problem solving and problem solving: problem solving in math these days, especially at the accessible high school level is strongly in two categories: number theory and discrete math. Discrete math is just a wealth of easily defined problems, and it covers combinatorics, graph theory, probability, language theory/grammars, etc. It's also a wealth of cutesy and clever problems.

If you enjoy these problems, you might really love working as an academic mathematician or computer scientist, or at research labs or just as an engineer at google or microsoft or cisco or IBM or Affymetrix or a host of other places. Being good at and liking this kind of problem solving opens lots and lots of options in things that are far beyond the horizon of college. There really are people who work on problems like this all day long. (and while SteveH may already know all of this, maybe someone else reading this thread won't.)

I think there are two problems with the W-G book. The first is that a university placement is not the end all and be all of a human's happiness, not even in their career world. Understanding what people actually *do* after college is really important. Loving school is different than loving work. The second is that gaming the system won't necessarily get you a good education.

SteveH said...

"SteveH may already know all of this, maybe "

Maybe not. I know what I know, but in many respects, I know very little about the whole world of math. In this thread, I'm trying to understand what AMC is all about, what opportunities are available to my son, and what they mean. I need to know what the game is even if I don't like it or might not follow it.

I like the W-G book because it emphasizes the idea of the direct correlation between a goal and the steps needed to get to that goal. This must be such an empowering shock to many kids currently spiraling around subjects while never diving in. It tells kids to dream big. They don't get that from the school.

However, there is a tendency to feel that all is lost if you don't have the big plan and are able to compete at the highest level. She does emphasize that the goal is not to get into some fancy college, but to dream and set a goal for what you want to do for a career. Then again, you have to be careful what you dream for.

Being an in-demand game designer or computer graphics animator might be great when you are 25 and willing to work 70 hours a week, but what happens when you get to be 40 and many think you are over-priced and technologically over the hill - by definition?

You could skip college and use the money to buy that little restaurant down by the beach. You could take the college money, invest it in a stock index fund, and then figure out how young you might be when you can retire.

Perhaps we should start a new thread about great jobs, especially those which don't require a college degree.

Allison said...

I'm firmly in the camp that "you can be anything you want if you try hard enough" is a outrageously bad message for our children.

I think it's devastating to tell teens that they must achieve their DREAMS so early, as if what a 17 yr old dreams is even a point of data worth considering. (would you take advice on your dreams from a 17 yr old (who wasn't your self?) why would you encourage your child to?

I think it's devastating because no teen can know enough about the world to know the requirements and sacrifices of what they want anyway, so even if they got their "dream", it's unlikely to conform to their image if it. Their lack of maturity and experience negotating real life means they probably don't have the tools to maximize it yet anyway, and probably will fail.

It also emphasizes a kind of entitlement mentality that isn't healthy. Life isn't about "I've worked hard, therefore I deserve something." Our children are going to be competing against kids from other countries--lots of them, and there will be no reason that service sector jobs or mfg sector jobs or knowledge jobs need be in the US.

The 24 yr old game developer is a great example. Better to be broad in education and then choose being a game developer because one enjoys it, rather than set your sites on a game developer major with so much hanging on it that you've narrowed the path for yourself to only that one dream which won't last past 35.

Picking a college whose strong subjects are narrow is really not a good idea. Picking a narrow major is not really a good idea.

But most people don't quite see how you get a job out of a wide major--physics, or math, say, whereas they are more clear on how an engineering major leads to a defined job. Showing students that a broad major can open many doors rather than leave them saying "I don't have any skills" is another important part of this high school and college process.

Anonymous said...

"I like the W-G book because it emphasizes the idea of the direct correlation between a goal and the steps needed to get to that goal"

Yes. I feel like I don't have to wait for the school.

She does talk quite a bit about gatekeeping and not waiting for the school or certain teachers to pick you for something. I think this is very important for kids to adapt that way of thinking. When I asked about my son going over to the high school for honors bio, as well as math, the teacher wasn't dismissive, but just hadn't considered it for him. He was a "math" kid. She had others who were "science" kids. It wasn't malevolent or anything, she just hadn't thought of him for that. But that is what gatekeeping usually looks like.

He did fine in honors bio in the 8th grade (mostly A's with an occasional B), and if he was fine, they probably had several kids who would have been, also. He mostly made A's by just listening and doing his homework. Because he's now accelerated in science, this puts him in a little better position with any competitions. More importantly, he was challenged and he really enjoyed it.

But, it never would have happened if I hadn't read the book and started pushing. The school still could have said he wasn't ready, but because he had taken the ACT and had good reading scores they didn't stand in his way, which is another reason to take the SAT/ACT if your child is in the 95th percentile or above on any subtests of your state tests. (That's the measure the talent searches use in deciding whether to take it or not.)

SusanS

VickyS said...

In Minnesota we have a Minnesota State High School Math League which is on par with a competitive sports team.

Also, at our school, anyone who wants to take the AMC10 or AMC12 can sign up. The math teacher is usually trying to recruit kids to take the test. I can echo the thoughts of some of others here that schools cannot always offer these competitions on a consistent basis because of varying levels of interest from year to year. There are so many demands on kids' time these days that it can be hard to field a team.

SteveH said...

"I think it's devastating to tell teens that they must achieve their DREAMS so early..."

Must? That's definitely not the spin of the book.

"It also emphasizes a kind of entitlement mentality that isn't healthy."

The book doesn't do that either. It's a lot more realistic and practical. If anything, it will scare kids away with all of its talk of 4 year plans and expectations for the perfect summer resume builders.

What it doesn't do is to tell kids that all it takes are a few motivational courses in Project Lead The Way. It tells them that they need to be on the calculus track. The plan will tell them pretty soon if their dreams are even feasible.

The downside of the book is that it encourages you to have a specific plan or idea of where you want to go from the beginning of high school. This seems to be a modern sort of idea with all of the specialty high schools popping up. This can be very good for some kids, but quite a trap for others.

SteveH said...

"rather than set your sites on a game developer major with so much hanging on it that you've narrowed the path for yourself to only that one dream which won't last past 35."

There are other things going on here. Usually, one graduates with a degree in, say, computer science that allows you to get a whole range of jobs. By graduation, most students have some specialty or area that they are interested in, and this guides their job search. When you get a job, you don't get a job in computer science, you get a job doing some specific sort of thing. It is extremely critical that you have a clue about what the job is and where it will lead you. There are many branches you might take over your career, and some lead to dead ends. If you take the wrong branch, it's extremely difficult to go back. You have to manage your skill set and resume. Otherwise, your bosses will do it for you and you probably won't like the result. You may end up as a DBA and not a game designer. Or, you might end up laid off and over-priced. Your college education won't limit you (too much), but your career choices will.

SteveH said...

"...gatekeeping and not waiting for the school or certain teachers to pick you for something."

I've tried to get my son to think of the bigger picture and not just what homework he has for tomorrow. His music also helps him realize that everything doesn't have to revolve around the school.

I think the book is best as a wake-up call for middle school kids and parents. It perhaps goes a little overboard, but the planning information is good. In our K-8 schools, nobody worries about much. Everyone just spirals along and goes with the flow. They will get serious when they get to high school. Even our high school's guidance department web site warns against that. They tell parents to start planning in 7th grade with math and foreign languages. It then goes on to list things that kids and parents should do for all 8 semesters of high school, including summers.

You would think that our K-8 schools would pick up on that and reinforce the message. Nope. You're on your own. Even now, the teachers in my son's middle school are assigning kids to honors or regular courses that will greatly influence everything they do in high school. You can't just go with the flow.