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Math Competitions for Students


A little competition can inspire math students to greater achievement. This week, Education World highlights more than a dozen math competitions or contests, one of which might be the one to motivate your students. Included: Problem-solving and stock market competitions and the World's Largest Math Event!

Math! Math! Math!

Do you want to challenge your students to use their math skills in new and creative ways? Each year, wise and creative teachers involve countless numbers of students in math-focused competitions and contests.
This week, Education World shares news of some of those events.


The goal of The Mandelbrot Competition, an annual mathematics contest open to high-school students around the world, is to "provide a challenging, engaging mathematical experience [that] is both competitive and educational." The competition consists of four rounds of testing throughout the year. Each round includes an individual test and a team test, and both individual and school prizes are awarded in each of two divisions.

Each year, more than 350,000 students participate in MathCounts, an annual math competition for students in grades 7 and 8. Through MathCounts, hundreds of corporations, foundations, and individuals, including NASA, the National Society of Professional Engineers, and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, join together to promote math education in the middle school. Beginning each September, teachers and volunteers use MathCounts materials to coach student "mathletes," either in class or as an extracurricular activity. In February, each participating school selects four students to compete, both individually and as a team, in written and oral competitions. Local winners go on to state contests. The top four students and their coaches earn an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the national finals.

The Math Olympiads for Elementary and Middle Schools, held each year from November to March, is open to students in grades 4 through 8. The contest's goals are to "stimulate enthusiasm and a love for mathematics, introduce important mathematical concepts, teach major strategies for problem solving, develop mathematical flexibility in solving problems, strengthen mathematical intuition, foster mathematical creativity and ingenuity, and provide for the satisfaction, joy, and thrill of meeting challenges." The competition consists of five monthly contests of five problems each. Teams of up to 35 students work individually to solve the problems and accumulate points. The team score is the sum of the ten highest individual scores. Each participant receives a certificate. High-scoring teams and individuals receive various trophies, patches, pins, medallions, and plaques. The International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) is an annual mathematics competition for high school students. The first IMO was held in 1959 in Romania, with 7 countries participating. It has gradually expanded to more than 80 countries from five continents.


The Math League sponsors Math League Contests for students in grades 4 and 5, 6 through 8, and high school and students in algebra 1. The contests challenge students to show their understanding of basic principles through problem solving, with a goal of "encouraging student interest and confidence in mathematics through solving worthwhile problems." Each Math League contest covers material appropriate to a particular grade level and encourages students in that grade to use a variety of problem-solving skills and methods. In the grades 4 and 5 and algebra contests, the highest-scoring student receives a book award. All other high-scoring students receive certificates of merit. In the contests for students in grades 6 through 8 and high school, the highest-scoring student receives a certificate of merit. Awards are also given to the two schools and the two students with the highest total scores. The highest-scoring school in each region also receives an award. More than 1 million students from the United States and Canada participate in Math League Contests each year.

SMG2000, an on-line version of the Stock Market Game, "help[s] students and adults understand the stock market, the costs and benefits involved in decision-making, the sources and uses of capital, and other related economic concepts." Each spring and fall, teams of students in grades 4 through 12 invest a virtual $100,000 in common stocks and then compete against one another to see who can increase the market value of their stock portfolio the most. Winning teams receive plaques, certificates, and prizes. More than 6 million students have participated in the Stock Market Game since its inception in 1977.


The American High School Mathematics Examination (AHSME) is a 90-minute, 30-problem multiple-choice examination administered each February to high-school students. The purpose of the exam, which includes algebra, geometry, and trigonometry problems, is to encourage interest in mathematics.

MathMagic is a K-12 telecommunications project maintained by the MathMagic Foundation, an organization established to help develop innovative teaching methods and to encourage students to articulate math problems. With a goal of motivating students to "use computer technology while increasing problem-solving strategies and communications skills," MathMagic posts challenge problems in each of four grade-level categories -- K through 3, 4 through 6, 7 through 9, and 10 through 12. Registered teams pair up by e-mail to solve the appropriate problems. When a solution is arrived at and agreed upon, it's submitted and posted on the MathMagic Web site. All participating teams receive certificates of participation and "MathMagic Internet Participant" decals.

The American Regions Math League competition consists of several events, including a team round, a power question, an individual round, two relay rounds, and a super relay. Each competing team consists of 15 students, high school age or lower. The competition takes place the weekend immediately following Memorial Day at Penn State, the University of Iowa, and UNLV.


Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
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Updated 07/21/2010