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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Math-a-thon helps prepare students for year-end tests

Jun 19, 2019 03:24PM ● By Julie Slama

Butler first-graders solve the final day’s math problems in a week-long math-a-thon designed not only as a fundraiser, but also to prepare students for year-end testing. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

For first-graders who have learned some double-digit addition and subtraction, getting a sheet with 17 of 20 of those questions may be daunting. But in Hannah Flanders’ class at Butler Elementary, they not only diligently worked on the math problems, but did so enthusiastically. 

That’s because those problems were the final day in the school’s week-long math-a-thon, where grade-level teachers have prepared their students to solve 20 daily problems. As a reward for getting problems correct, the students who earlier may have gotten pledges from families and friends will help the school raise funds for iPads or ChromeBooks as well as field trip money.

“We get prizes too, but I like working on the iPads,” first-grader Miles Wood said. “This helps us learn more math, like plus and minus. It’s fun. I like the big math problems like 100 and 200.”

Miles said he prepared for the math-a-thon with his mother.

“My mom writes a whole bunch of problems for me and I practiced like seven times. I got 99 out of 100 right, but I’m going to go home and practice the last one,” he said.

With the math-a-thon, students have a second chance to get the problem correct if they miss one, and the papers go home so parents can see the results, Flanders said. Some parents also volunteered with testing.

Flanders, in her first year, appreciates the math-a-thon.

“I’m finding students are motivated to get problems right so they can earn money for the school,” she said. “It’s teaching them perseverance, if they go back and try to get the answer correct. It’s a good life skill.”

First-grader Ellie Bates said she corrected three of the 100 problems during the week and got them right the second time.

“I like math, and this helps me learn,” she said. “My favorite problem is 44 plus 55, which is 99. Ninety-nine is my favorite number.”

Flanders said she appreciates the fundraiser being tied to academics.

“It’s a very manageable fundraiser that is measurable. The kids are understanding the importance of getting the problems right as they have a direct impact on the prizes they receive,” she said.

Individual prizes could mean attending an ice-cream sandwich party or a chance to go down a giant slide. Every student receives a certificate and Rice Krispies Treats after completing the math-a-thon. 

They also got to cheer on their Principal Jeff Nalwalker, who agreed to spend the night May 21 on the roof when they reached their goal of $20,000. Instead, students surpassed the goal, raising $27,000.

The math-a-thon started six or seven years ago under former principal Christy Waddell, who wanted to step aside from asking parents to purchase “junk” to support the school.

“My background is in math,” she said. “Our math scores were not very good on the SAGE test so we started the math-a-thon. Parents loved the change.”

Parent Natalie Higginson is one of those parents.

“I love that they are promoting learning while fundraising,” she said. “It also has given my boys a chance to have one-on-one conversations with neighbors in presenting their goals and why they are asking for pledges and how that money will benefit them and their school.”

Teachers also appreciate tying education into the fundraiser. Fifth-grade teacher Elyse Mingl said she is seeing her students use concepts they’ve learned from the school year in answering their grade-level math-a-thon questions.

“They’re pulling from resources and understanding the concepts to use in the problems,” she said. “The problems are on grade level, but some are tricky and students are needing to think about them.” 

While the problems are hitting specific standards, including word problems, multiplying fractions and the order of operations, Mingl said she is impressed with the desire the students want to achieve on the math-a-thon tests.

“It’s helping them retain what they have been taught and if they’re struggling on the concept, they’re trying again to get it right,” she said.

Her colleague Nelly Ledlum said the math-a-thon also helps her students be comfortable for the district and state testing.

“It’s a good review for the kids to know what they need to and to prepare for the end-of-the-year testing,” she said.