By Darren Lum
Published June 19 2018
The J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School math team was surprised to make it as far as they did.
The team consisting of Grade 8s Molly Devolin and Jackson Wilson Grade 7s Matthew and Emmerson Wilson and coach Mike van den Hengel made the provincial finals the Ontario Mathematics Olympics from June 8 to 9 at Sheridan College in Oakville.
All the team members went into the competition a little intimidated understanding many of the other teams received supplemental math lessons in addition to school. Despite this trepidation the Jaguars entered competition determined to do their best. They all enjoyed their experience calling it “exciting” and believed they fulfilled their potential.
This competition tests the Grade 7 and 8 students with questions related to the province’s mathematics curriculum. The Ontario Association for Mathematics Education website states: Some questions are to be answered individually while other questions require a team approach. Students must demonstrate their understanding of the mathematical concepts and their ability to solve problems and to communicate their knowledge in various applied situations.
Although the final results for teams out of the top three were not released the team believes they were in the top half of the 32 team field of entries since early results indicated the Jaguars were in the top 10. Some of the other teams were involved with specialty math programs from private schools located large communities.
The Jaguars however did have Jackson and Molly. Van den Hengel said Jackson is taking high school math through the Reach Ahead math program and Molly had recently studied more advanced mathematics at an international school while living in South Korea.
Like their previous competition the team was tested individually and in groups covering Grade 7 and 8 curriculum. One of the math challenges was to predict how far a roll of toilet paper would travel before it made contact with a wall given only one measurement.
The most enjoyable aspect of the two days for the team wasn’t even related to the competition but the pre-competition math activities a day before. One of those activities was creating a giant seven foot dinosaur made up of Soma cardboard cubes.
When asked about how this type of competition differs from athletics the group said it was far more serious with little to no socialization between teams. Winning is dependent on the group’s personal abilities and not on the adversarial approach inherent with team sports.
Van den Hengel said for this team to get to the provincials was a great achievement.
“They had to beat everybody in the Trillium Lakelands District School Board in order to get there so they won that and then to go off to Sheridan and compete provincially we were one of them. One of only two northern teams” he said.
Among the factors he said for this team’s success was familiarity with one another. With three siblings this was a given. Also the team’s members complemented and supported one another very well.
“They kind of build off each other’s strengths and prop each other up in those situations as well. I saw a lot of that” van den Hengel said. “We weren’t allowed to watch the competition at the provincials but when they were doing it at the regionals … they were just feeding off each other. Wherever someone had a weakness somebody would just step in and prop them up. Their ability to work together was special. I think it’s a special team when you look at those guys.”
The school had two entries for the competition: this team and a team comprising of French Immersion students. Teams were chosen based on teacher suggestions and was open to the student body. Practices were infrequent and coaching minimal.
This team earned their berth by winning TLDSB the annual Intermediate Math Olympics on April 3. It featured a field of 16 schools 18 teams and 72 intermediate students who came from all over the board’s district. The team faced math challenges as pairs and individuals. The challenges including coding an FNMI (First Nations Métis and Inuit) inspired challenge a team relay challenge.
With Emmerson and Matthew still eligible for another year the coach believes they can act as mentors to new math team members.
He’s taken inspiration by this achievement.
“I wasn’t necessarily a good math student in my younger days but I’ve taken a passion for it since seeing what these kids can do” he said.