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Pentagames prove math can be fun

Math can be fun - just ask any of the hundreds of students who participated in the statewide 2012 Pentagames Math Challenge held at Waluga Junior High School and seven other locations April 27.

Waluga math teachers Jennifer Bell and Sarah Grosenbach co-chaired the event, which included seventh- and eighth-grade students from Waluga, Lake Oswego Junior High School and Riverdale Grade School, as well as students from five other Oregon schools. Now in its 29th year, this interschool competition offers students the opportunity to experience the excitement and challenge of competition in the classroom that is usually reserved for the sports field.

The daylong event involved solving a wide range of mathematics problems in five distinct formats - hence the name Pentagames. The competitions are scored similarly to a track meet. Each school is represented by three-member teams from the seventh-grade, eighth-grade and algebra/open levels. These nine student teams compete for individual team and school awards, which are presented at the end of each event.

"It is a fun competition that encourages cooperation in problem-solving," Grosenbach said.

'Kids can see that math can be fun and that putting effort into it is important,' Bell said. 'This is a great way to build excitement about the fun of math' before the students begin high school.

According to Bell, research in past years indicates that students in the United States graduate from high school with math skills that are lower than those of students in many other countries. Pentagames is evidence of a desire on the part of students and teachers to promote achievement in mathematics and have some fun in the process.

The Pentagames' five events included:

• Math Tac Toe: Patterned after tic-tac-toe, a variety of math problems are presented on a three-by-three grid. Points are earned for correct answers and tic-tac-toes.

• Solve That Problem: Grade-level teams bid and solve problems together using various problem-solving strategies. Calculators may be used.

• 35-Minus: Math problems are shown on an overhead projector with a variable time limit appropriate to the type of problem presented. When the time is up, the problems are corrected. Points are based on the number of correct responses.

• Team CR Squad: Grade-level teams estimate and revise comparison problems. An 'if, then" format is used. Students see one item and compare it to five others. Clues are given to revise estimates. Calculators can be used.

• In the final event, the Relay, teams line up and then, one player at a time, race across the room to a stack of math problems. The player selects a problem, solves it and then runs back to the team so the next player can have a turn. The team with the most right answers at the end wins.

As luck and mathematical skill would have it, the team from Lake Oswego Junior High won this year's competition. Seventh-graders Jackson Dyal and Kyle Padgett tied for fifth place in the individual category. The eighth-grade team took second place, Kyle Rogers took fourth place individually, and Abby Castle and Elizabeth Park tied for fifth place. The algebra open team took second place, Eric Klein placed third individually, Crystal Liu tied for fourth individually and Walt O'Conner tied for fifth place individually.

Waluga came in third place overall. The seventh-grade team took second, with Mark Urreiztieta tying for fourth place. The eighth grade team tied for third place, and Lisa Douglas took first individually.

'Pentagames was always a highlight for my students,' said Jackie Nissen, who taught math for the Newberg School District for 30 years. She has been volunteering with Pentagames since the program's second year.

'We would prepare by having a mini-contest at our school," Nissen said. "We just want to keep the torch going. It's a fun act to associate with math.'

An all-volunteer staff presents the Pentagames Math Challenge program. Bell said a Pentagames state board of directors generates problems during a summer work session. The problems are revised according to state standards to keep them aligned with the curriculum.

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