Math Masters began as a fifth grade math competition program in 1989 with teams from 44 schools taking part. In 1995, the competition was expanded to include sixth graders and this year approximately 5,500 fifth and sixth graders competed in regional competitions across Minnesota. Pioneer Elementary has competed since the mid 1990s. Denny Rothstein has coached fifth grade since 1997 and sixth grade since 2004. Denny was originally recruited to volunteer by Connie Banach, sister-in-law and then teacher at Pioneer. After much arm twisting, Denny agreed to give it a try. After all, how hard could fifth grade math be? But, Math Masters is not about arithmetic, though knowing math facts is very helpful; Math Masters is designed to promote excellence in critical thinking skills and problem solving abilities. Students are exposed to algebra, geometry, probability, and logic problems, as well as other areas that are not usually part of the curriculum until eighth or ninth grade.
A team selection test is given to the students to assist the classroom teachers in choosing the top students to participate in the Math Masters program. Five participants and one alternate are given the opportunity to participate. Students work with their coach for one hour per week for three to four months beginning in December to get ready for competition in March or April. Students compete in four individual tests and three team tests. The problems are all word problems and the first challenge for the students is to put the problem into a math formula. The calculations are not difficult, but there may be several calculations required to get the answer.
Students are encouraged to use calculators. Answers must be provided in the format that is specified in the question. The written tests provide a non-threatening environment. Nobody needs to be scared to present an answer because only the checkers see the tests. Scores are recorded for each individual. Team scores are computed by taking the best four of the five individual scores for each test plus the scores of the three team tests. Team tests scores are weighted heavier by a multiple of three. The most successful teams learn the importance of working together to find the solution to a problem. Some of the areas tested include number facts/order of operation; numeracy/properties of numbers; geometry/time/money; statistics/probability/counting; decimals/fractions/percents; charts/graphs; sequences/series/pre-algebra
Denny recalls that his first year the team took third place. It was quickly realized that the math curriculum at Pioneer Elementary is very solid. Pioneer Elementary students have generally been in the top quarter of the teams at the competitions, including ten fifth grade teams that finished in the top four and five sixth grade teams that have finished in the top four. This past week, when Math Masters WON the entire competition, out of 36 teams, in Alexandria, Denny said he always expects they’ll be in the top placings, but when he found out they actually took first place...well, that’s always an extraordinary accomplishment for any team. Mrs. Sandy, 6th grade teacher is thankful for Denny's skills and attention this program and the students: "Math Master's community support comes in the form of Denny Rothstein. He has volunteered countless hours over more than 20 years with our Math Masters. It is always fun to see the kids eager to go do more math, and that is because of Denny."