Billy has some pet birds and dogs. He has eight pets altogether. If Billy’s pets have a total of 24 legs, how many of his pets are birds? How many are dogs?
The second graders in JoAnn Wilcox’s class at South Jordan Elementary know that Billy has four dogs and four birds and can solve this problem. They showed their peers they could answer other story problems this spring when they were named Jordan School District Monster Math champions for the second straight year.
“This class loves a challenge and they love to learn,” Wilcox said. “Even though they work in pairs, it really is a whole class effort since we learn together as a class all year.”
Monster Math is an integrated program combining skills in reading, thinking, communicating, computing, conceptualization and problem solving, Wilcox said.
The students in Wilcox’s class work in groups where they talk to each other, trying to solve complex story problems. With the district test, the students must show their work, explain their methods and thinking. Full points are not given if the answer isn’t labeled correctly or a step is missing, and partial points are awarded if the work is shown, labeled and explained but has a computation error leading to an incorrect answer.
Eight-year-old Brooklynn Fogg said that even with all the practicing, sometimes they make mistakes.
“It’s hard to remember to label everything and it can get complicated when you’re solving the problem,” she said. “Some students skip steps so they make a mistake. The questions are tricky. Sometimes, we forget the easiest part and that’s putting our names on the paper.”
Even so, Brooklynn has enjoyed Monster Math.
“It’s so much fun, I just love it. I was in the bathroom when I saw the Monster trophy go by. I ran in the (class) room as it was announced, ‘Congrats, you won.’ We were all so excited since we worked really hard and practiced a lot. I know it helped me do more challenging math problems,” she said.
Wilcox began preparing the students for the Monster Math district competition in the fall by introducing them to strategies and steps to solve problems, and then by practicing it on a regular basis.
The steps students followed included: reading the problem, rereading the problem and underlining or highlighting what is needed; rereading it a third time and visualizing the problem; writing a complete answer to the problem and leaving a blank to fill in after solving it; trying different strategies on a white board to solve it; filling in the blank in the answer sentence; and rereading it and checking off that everything was completed.
Wilcox also suggested that students use strategies to solve the math problem such as drawing a picture, making a table, working it out backward, trying it with manipulatives, acting it out, charting data, checking for patterns, trying smaller numbers and guessing a solution and checking to see if it works.
“These steps and strategies can be applied in any subject area to help student success. For me, this math is beyond the textbook. It allows students to problem solve and see how they can be challenged to think,” Wilcox said.
Throughout the year, Wilcox had her students practice on problems that either she created or ones from previous Monster Math competitions. The school district also has a Monster Math website with sample problems.
Second grader Christopher Pacini likes the challenge of Monster Math.
“The reason I like Monster Math is because I solve long problems from everything I’ve learned since kindergarten; it’s all mixed into a word problem,” he said. “I practiced labeling my answers a lot before the actual test so I’d be ready and wouldn’t forget.”
After registering for the district competition, Wilcox received the Monster Math problems and had students pick a buddy to take the tests. After completing the test, Wilcox returned the test with their answers to the district office by April 10. In May, the students learned they won and the class received the district traveling trophy with a monster inside. The class gets to display the trophy at their school until next year’s competition.
A celebration is being planned for the students where they each will receive a certificate and ribbon, demonstrating their contributions to the overall class win.
Wilcox, who has been instructing students for more than 25 years, introduced Monster Math in her second year of teaching. Her classes have won at district about a dozen times.