Bridgeport knows Math is Cool

A group of 17 Bridgeport Elementary School fifth-graders competed at the regional Math is Cool competition March 20 in Wenatchee. They are shown before the competition with their coach, Susan Schuh, top left. (Karen Larsen photo)


By Karen Larsen

For many of us, math was a hurdle that we needed to pass over. We tried to keep alert in class, and got our homework done, but we certainly didn’t spend any more time on it than necessary. For participants in the annual Math is Cool competition, math is a hobby. It is something that they spend numerous hours training in throughout the school year in anticipation of annual competitions.
Over 50 students in Bridgeport Elementary School grades 4-8 were in such a category this school year. Coach Susan Schuh, who teaches a fourth and fifth grade class, has been coaching Math is Cool at the school for the past eight years. Participants qualify for the team based on their scores on the math portion of a standardized test. Those who qualify are invited to take part in Math is Cool, and those who accept the invitation commit to practicing an hour and a half three afternoons a week throughout the school year.
Competitions occur at different times during the year, depending on the grade. On March 20, fifth-graders, including 17 representing Bridgeport Elementary School, gathered at Foothills Middle School in Wenatchee for their annual regional competition. The competition included individual mental math and pencil and paper tests, two team tests, a team relay and a college bowl. The tests were proctored by high school students, who are members of the Wenatchee High School National Honor Society and the Wenatchee High School Math Club.
Schuh said that she always sees a big difference in the participants’ standardized test scores from fall to spring. With many elementary, intermediate and middle schools throughout North Central Washington sending their most talented math students to the competitions, it is not easy to be one of the top-scoring teams or individuals. Schuh said that this year Bridgeport eighth graders qualified for the Master’s (or second level of competition), which took place in December in Moses Lake.
Many students take part in Math is Cool year after year, and their skills and interest just keep getting stronger as they stick with it. Schuh said that among the high school proctors this year was one of the students who started Math is Cool as a fourth-grader the same year that she started coaching. “It’s been really fun to see these kids learn and grow and get better at math,” Schuh said. She added that after each year’s competition, many students ask her, “Can we do it again next year?” She tells them they can as long as they’re still willing to commit to the practice schedule.
Fifth-grader Charleah Munson took part in Math is Cool for the second year this year. Asked if practices ever interfere with other activities that she wants to take part in, Munson said, “I just don’t join (the other activities).” She said she likes Math is Cool because, “it helps me learn more math.”
Jennifer Farias said she likes Math is Cool because, “it helps me get smarter.” She said that she wants to continue taking part in future years.
Following the competition, there was an award ceremony, which recognized the top individual scorer in each school, the teams with the top scores in Divisions 1 and 2, and the top 10 individual scorers in the two divisions. Divisions are based on the size of the school district.
Competitions for grades 4-6 are held simultaneously in Vancouver, Wenatchee, Spokane, Seattle and the Tri-Cities from the end of January through mid-April. Qualifying students move on to the Masters competitions in Moses Lake. Middle and high school competitions occur in the fall in Seattle, Spokane and Vancouver.
In Wenatchee, this year’s fourth grade competition was sponsored by McQuaig and Welk, PLCC. The fifth grade competition was sponsored by Confluence Health and the sixth grade will be sponsored by IEEE — Central Washington Section.