By Greg Gelpi
Students at Oliver Elementary School are gathering in a gym for their own March Madness.
With basketball goals raised out of the way, students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade are competing in the school's Math Fest all week.
As the word problem is flashed on the projection screen, Daylan Whipple, 7, counted on his fingers and quickly jotted down an answer on his dry erase board.
Daylan said he enjoys doing the work because it's fun, but the school's motives exceed students simply having fun.
Math Fest has become an annual tradition at Oliver Elementary, Clayton County's math and science focused school, Principal Ronald Boykins said. In the weeks leading up to spring break, the competition comes as one last push before the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.
"All of this is preparation for the CRCT," Boykins said.
By providing opportunities for competition, the school enables students to compete, he said, and the students love it said first grade advanced placement teacher Jennifer Fair.
"The children, they are so competitive," Fair said. "Me, I'm a very competitive teacher, so I push my babies."
In her first grade AP math class, for instance, she teaches her students second grade math, she said.
"We reinforce their first grade math skills and push them on to the second grade math skills," Fair said. "There's no sense in holding them back if they're ready."
Fair said that the school uses little "pencil and paper" instruction, but instead makes math "fun" with hands-on activities and competitions, such as the ones this week.
This week's competitions will determine the "math champion" for each grade, Boykins said. The top 60 students will advance to Saturday's finals, where competition will get more "intense."
Having fun, while competing and preparing for the CRCT, the students are answering questions under similar timed conditions and pressure as those of standardized tests, Boykins said.
"All of this is about motivating and pushing our kids to do more," he said, adding that the results speak for themselves.
Last year, Oliver led the county with the highest math scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Standards, Boykins said.
"We are trying to establish a whole culture of achievement," Boykins said.
Competition will continue through the week and will wrap up Saturday with the final round of competition. Math Fest will also include Saturday night's Math Fun Night and Tuesday's math skate party.