Photo by Jeylin White
Church Street Elementary School students participated in a math competition, held at the school on Friday. The contest was called MathFest, led by former Oliver Elementary School Principal Dr. Ron Boykins. The event was to help students prepare for the CRCT tests in April.
Church Street Elementary fourth-grader Connie Tran said she could hardly wait to enter the school’s cafeteria on Friday. Why? The youngster was filled with jitters because she was about to compete against dozens of her classmates in a math challenge.
“I’m very competitive, when I do math,” said the 10-year-old. “Math is my favorite subject.”
Walking into the cafeteria at the Riverdale school was like stepping into a simulated game show . Hip Hop and Pop music from the ’90s resonated in the background and scores of youngsters were chanting — back and forth — at one another.
Students from the third, fourth, and fifth grades competed in the MathFest Competition. Each grade level had to answer math questions created by Dr. Ron Boykins, MathFest’s founder.
It’s a competitive math game Boykins created 12 years ago, when he was principal at Oliver Elementary from 1998-2008. He said he noticed that students needed to be challenged, and saw that fun, competitive games were the best learning tool.
“Students like sports and they like competition,” said Boykins. “We need to use competition for education to get students hooked and excited about math and science.”
Fourth-graders David Wilson, 10, and Angel Cyrus, 10, seemed to enjoy themselves. Both said math is their favorite subject and that they would much rather be playing a fun game than sitting in class all day, working on “boring” worksheets.
“It’s fun,” Cyrus said, enthusiastically. “Playing fun games really helps me learn and understand better.”
Wilson said he’s been having difficulty learning how to divide numbers with decimals, but said participating in the math competition gave him a better understanding.
“When you get to play in activities while also learning you get to learn more and it’s funner and you get to hang out,” said Wilson. “When you’re working out of the books, it’s not fun and you’re not interested.”
Students competed against each other individually and were given a sheet of math questions, a white wash board to write their answers, and received a ticket for each answer they got right. Those students with the most tickets at the end of the game won prizes.
Boykins said that he created MathFest for elementary and middle-school students. The MathFest website — http://www.mathfest.us/ — explains how it became popular.
“It started with math competitions at other schools and grew to the first state-wide invitational math competition,” a website statement reads. “Over 1,500 students came to compete at Clayton State University in Georgia. MathFest has now been conducted in seven states, with over 25,000 students served in the last 18 months.”
Third-grade teacher Brenita Rogers said the purpose of the event was to help to increase student achievement in mathematics and also to prepare students for the Career Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) in April.
“We like to do activities with students to get them motivated before we take the CRCT,” said Rogers.
Principal Debra Bostick-Smith said the school is going the extra mile to push student achievement.
“MathFest is a good way to get our students excited about math,” said Bostick-Smith. “Dr. Boykins has been doing this for several years and the depth of knowledge these kids are gaining are allowing them to meet high standards [in math.]”
Bostick-Smith said the school failed to meet the requirements of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) last year largely due to the students math scores being down on the CRCT test. She said she is confident that Friday’s math competition will help boost those scores.
She added they were also one of the 15 schools in the districts listed as a “Focus School” by the Georgia Department of Education earlier this week. Two lists were released by the DOE, as part of the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Matt Cardozo, director of communications for the department, said a “Focus School” has a graduation rate of less than 60 percent over a two-year period, and a significant achievement gap between the highest-achieving student subgroup in the school and the lowest-achieving one.
It was earlier this month that the state Department of Education, in compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act waiver, identified 78 schools across Georgia as being “Priority Schools” — the lowest-performing schools in the state. Clayton County had no schools on the “Priority Schools” list.
However, Boykins said, educators need to go beyond preparing students for the standardized tests and prepare them for the real world.
“It’s somewhat Biblical, ‘train up a child in the way they should go,’ ” he said, echoing words found in Proverbs. “We need to train students to be competitive with their academics.”
Boykins said his plan is to take MathFest around the country and he’s already met with Congressman John Lewis, who is the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th Congressional District, on MathFest being implemented as a federal program in elementary and middle schools.