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Exploring Math Through Math Competitions At The Elementary School Level: Case Study Of A K 12 Approach

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Mathematics in Transition

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

12.723.1 - 12.723.10



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Paper Authors


Nirmala Gnanapragasam Seattle University

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Nirmala Gnanapragasam is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Seattle University. She is a geotechnical engineer and is a registered Professional Engineer in the State of Washington. She manages the senior capstone design program in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department, is active in engineering education research, consulting and in K-12 math education.

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Exploring Math through Math Competitions at the Elementary School Level: Case Study of a K-12 Outreach Abstract

Studies have shown that engineering enrollments nationwide are declining or flat and US students lag in math behind other developed countries. Leading educators have challenged engineering educators to intervene at an early stage to improve math education. This paper is a case study of a decade old, volunteer-run, before- school “math club” enrichment activity at an elementary public school in Washington State for fourth through sixth graders. Math is promoted among students by preparing them to participate in various math competitions at the local, state, national and international level. The process of establishing the club, development of a work schedule, various math competitions available to Washington State elementary school students and their levels of difficulty, and challenges, rewards and lessons learned through the past seven years are described. By getting involved in such programs engineers have an opportunity to teach students the art of problem solving along with team building, leadership and negotiating skills, keeping schedules and meeting deadlines which are important skills for an engineering career. This is also a great opportunity to build a positive image of engineers among K-12 students and to attract girls to engineering.


The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study carried out in 2003 assessed about half a million students after fourth and eighth grades from about 45 countries around the world. It showed that although US eighth graders achieved a higher score in mathematics than the international average, they were outperformed by more than ten other countries1. According to the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) only 49% of the eighth graders in Washington State met the required standard in math in 2005-20062. Statistics also show that freshmen enrollment in engineering is slowly declining since 20023,4. Leading educators have challenged engineering educators to intervene at an early age to improve math education in primary and secondary schools5.

If we are interested in improving math education we should start at the elementary school level, similar to starting music and sports for children at a young age. This paper is a case study of an entirely volunteer run, before school, enrichment “math club” in an elementary school in Shoreline, Washington. Similar to learning a sport during practice sessions and competing in inter-league games during the season, the purpose of this math club is to coach the students in math during the early part of the academic year and then let them participate in various math competitions in the second half of the year. The paper describes the history of establishing the club, development of a schedule for the math club, and some of

Gnanapragasam, N. (2007, June), Exploring Math Through Math Competitions At The Elementary School Level: Case Study Of A K 12 Approach Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2862

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