So, You Want to Start a Math Team?

Part 1: Thinking it Through

Congratulations! Thanks for being a teacher, family member, administrator, or volunteer who loves and values math! Copious amounts of research verify that our kids (and teachers!) need to change their attitudes toward math, particularly as they get older, and particularly if they’re female. An elementary school math team is a terrific venue for improving those perceptions, and they also foster teamwork and school pride.

Math Teams are fantastic for a billion reasons. Wildwood Elementary started its 3rd – 5th grade math team in the fall of 2008, and the amount the kids (and we adults!) have learned in three years is remarkable. In this series, I’ll detail some of the ideas and resources we found to be the most useful.

Before you get overwhelmed or get ahead of yourself (or both), ponder these logistical questions:

Who’s going to run this thing? If it’s you, sweet! You don’t need to have calculus under your belt in order to be an effective math team coach. If you want to help but you think you need someone else to take the lead, contact existing math teams at your district’s middle and high school levels. Often, coaches will have suggestions for you, or they might even volunteer to help you get started! Of course, your elementary school principal, math facilitator, or other interested teachers are great resources too. Personally, e-mail is the best way for a family member to reach out to me. If you’re more of a phone person, calling after school is best. Before school, my brain is filled with the day ahead of me.

Where can we meet? How often? If you haven’t already contacted an administrator or classroom teacher, talk with your school’s office manager about securing a space and a time. Wildwood meets on Tuesday afternoons for an hour after school. During competition season, we also have an optional Thursday practice. We started our practices in the library, but it wasn’t always available. Now, we meet in my classroom, but my students always grab a few extra chairs before the end of the day so everyone will have a seat for Math Team.

What paperwork do we need to fill out? For our math team, we needed to send out the district’s blanket Activity Permission Form. (we had to explain to a lot of families that it was just a generic form, as it included statements relinquishing liability for “bodily harm.” “Is this a contact sport?” one parent asked us) We had to fill out a facility use request for our meetings. We also needed to file field trip requests and collect permission slips for every competition, even if students were responsible for their transportation.

How many people do we anticipate? How many can we handle? We had a TON more people our first year than we anticipated. Part of that was because many parents believed Math Team was a tutoring assistance program rather than a challenging enrichment experience. Clarity in your initial conversations with interested families will help your program run smoothly regardless of the number of students. Our first year, we were able to handle 50 students with two teachers. We enlisted the help of high school math team members, and meetings this year seem significantly less draining.

What does transportation look like? When Wildwood had an after school program, we spoke with transportation, and on Tuesdays our Math Team kids were able to hop on the after school bus. Now that that program has been scaled back, we give our kids a carpool form at the beginning of the year to link kids who aren’t able to secure a ride with nearby teammates.

How will we reach all our eligible students? We translated our math team flyer into several languages and we had an information table open at Open House and at conferences. We talked with teachers about personally encouraging their exceptional students to join. I talked up math team in my daily class meetings.

How will we communicate with students and families? We send home flyers in students’ weekly Thursday folders. We use the district’s automated call-out system for reminder messages. Next year, we’re going to request families’ e-mails on our beginning-of-the-year permission slip.

Come back and visit us on Tuesday, and we’ll help you plan the year ahead of you. Be there or be the rectangle with the largest area!


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