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Tenn. Middle School Competition Proves Math Can Be Fun

ORAU-sponsored Competition Encourages Students’ Interest in Math and Reinforces Importance of Science and Technology Disciplines

May 1, 2008

Oak Ridge, Tenn.—The future Einsteins and Newtons of the world could one day look back on their grade school education and fondly credit an East Tennessee-based math competition with encouraging their success. The idea that a little friendly competition among classmates might inspire more students to pursue careers in science, mathematics, engineering and technology (STEM) fields is exactly what organizers of the Tennessee Middle School Math Bowl are aiming to achieve.

This year’s event—organized by Pellissippi State Technical Community College (PSTCC) and sponsored by Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU)—attracted more than 600 of the brightest sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students from East Tennessee and the surrounding areas.

Jonathan Lamb, the competition’s organizer and associate professor of mathematics at PSTCC, noted that somewhere between the ages of 10 and 15, students begin to loose interest in mathematics.

Middle School Math Bowl

Jefferson Middle School Math Club members (pictured L to R) Mia D’Angelo, Cora Lay, Skylar Elliot, Nina Bradley, Eric Nutter and Daniel Cross enjoy a fun-filled afternoon outside the Zuma Fun Center after competing in the 2008 Middle School Math Bowl. Jefferson Middle School students swept the competition with nine individual winners, a second-place seventh grade team, and first-place trophies for both the school’s six grade and eighth grade teams. High-resolution version of photo

"Statistically, more students begin to loose interest in math during the years just before high school than at any other time," Lamb said. "The idea behind the Middle School Math Bowl is to use a challenging and fun experience to foster even the slightest sparks of interest students may still have in mathematics."

The competition, recently held at PSTCC’s Hardin Valley Campus, did indeed feature a challenge—the completion of a difficult, 30-question test—as well as nearly three hours of video games, go carts, miniature golf and other games at the Zuma Fun Center in Knoxville. Questions for the tests were unique to each grade division and designed by college math professors from across the state of Tennessee including Austin Peay State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University, the University of Memphis, the University of Tennessee at Martin and Walters State Community College.

While the Tennessee Middle School Math Bowl enjoys great support regionally, educators across the country are looking for ways to encourage students’ interest in the STEM disciplines.  Wayne Stevenson, the director of ORAU’s Science Education Programs, explained briefly why the interests of today’s middle school students are so critical to keeping our nation competitive on a global level.

"There’s no doubt that mathematics plays a critical role in our nation’s ability to prepare students to become innovative science and technology leaders in an increasingly global economy," Stevenson said. "All across the country, our colleges and universities are looking for creative ways to reach our young students and encourage them to pursue degrees in technical fields. The Tennessee Middle School Math Bowl is an excellent example of one program that has consistently proven the value of its mission, and ORAU is happy to sponsor this event again this year."

East Tennessee students participated in both team and individual competitions. The top three overall team winners at each grade level were:

  • Sixth grade: Jefferson Middle School (Oak Ridge)
  • Seventh grade: Greenway School (Knoxville)
  • Eighth grade: Jefferson Middle School (Oak Ridge)

Trophies and gift cards were also awarded to the top 10 students in each grade level. To view a complete list of the winners, please visit the Middle School Math Bowl Contest Information page on the PSTCC Web site.

ORAU provides innovative scientific and technical solutions to advance national priorities in science, education, security and health. Through specialized teams of experts, unique laboratory capabilities and access to a consortium of more than 100 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local and commercial customers to advance national priorities and serve the public interest. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

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