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Crunching Numbers: The Math Team at VVMS

Student sitting at desk working on math problem. SPOTLIGHT on Edina Community Ed Middle School Programs: 

Crunching Numbers with the Math Team at Valley View Middle School

“These kids are just such a joy to work with. Yes, they’re middle schoolers, and they are quirky to the max, but they have taught me so much – more than I probably have ever taught them!”

Monday mornings in room 249 at Valley View Middle School (VVMS) are bursting with brain power. Pencils swooshing and scribbling dividends is the only sound in a packed classroom of energized students running a timed-practice test to prepare for an upcoming MATHCOUNTS competition through Minnesota Junior High Math League. But when the sound of a buzzer signals that time is up, pencils are dropped and an explosion of conversation and answer comparisons takes over.   

Led by VVMS teacher Meg Schlukebier, the Math Team has sent numerous individuals and teams to the State competition and two individuals to the National competition where the VVMS team has placed first three times.  However, it’s more than just numbers. “What makes Math Team unique is the focus not just on math,” says Coach Schlukebier, “but using that math to problem solve and work with each other to strengthen that problem solving. It requires thinking outside of the box.” Understanding the group’s interpersonal dynamics is part of the success that Coach Schlukebier sees in her Math Team competitors.  

“So often with academics – math in particular – students try to outperform one another,” she says. “While the individual score is a part of Math Team, there is a bigger part that focuses on teamwork and building each other up. Middle school is so awkward for kids. Math Team is a time and place for all of these kids to get together with their peers who “get” them. It’s a time for them to work on a thing they are very passionate about – math – without having someone make fun of the fact that they just really enjoy it.”

In addition to Monday morning practice sessions, the Math Team has the opportunity to attend competitions and work side-by-side with mathletes from other schools.  This gives kids a chance to see that other school communities are also filled with math-loving kids who have similar experiences and passions. The team also travels to competitions a few times each year, introducing them to a much larger community of math enthusiasts.  

Schlukebier has been teaching at VVMS since 2006, and when she’s not crunching numbers for fun, she can often be found playing in the St. Louis Park Community Band as their principal oboe/English horn player or as the woodwind specialist for the pit orchestra at Morris Park Players Community Theatre or spending time with her two children and husband.

Teacher with two students during math team practice.

Currently, there is a waitlist for Math Team at VVMS. For more info and to join the waitlist at VVMS, click here.   

At South View Middle School (SVMS), the Math Team is led by teacher Aaron Bucko. For more information and to join the SVMS Math Team, click here.

To learn about other programs and classes offered through Edina Community Education, click here.  

A play-by-play by Coach Schlukebier how Math Team works:

At the State MATHCOUNTS competition, the top four individuals compete as individuals and as a team for the National MATHCOUNTS competition, which, for the past several years has alternated locations between Disneyworld and Washington, D.C. The coach of the top team at the State competition is invited to coach the top four individuals for the National competition.

        Math Team at the middle school level participates in two series of competitions. The first is through the Minnesota Junior High Mathematics League (MNJHML). MNJHML consists of five competitions (“Meets”) held from early October through January. The math involved focuses on the 8th grade MN standards, so the competitions are very Algebra focused. In each Meet, students do two individual rounds, each of which consists of 5 questions to answer in a maximum of 10 minutes with no calculator. Once the individual rounds are done, we break for a snack and to regroup into teams. Students then compete in a Team Round, where they work in groups of six to answer 10 questions within a 20-minute time limit, again, with no calculator. All students compete in each Meet.

        The second series of competitions is through MATHCOUNTS. MATHCOUNTS is much more challenging and the breadth and depth of math knowledge needed to be successful in a MATHCOUNTS competition are much larger. Because we compete with MNJHML for the majority of our season, we start our MATHCOUNTS series of competitions with their Chapter competition. Unlike with MNJHML, only ten students are allowed to compete at the Chapter competition level of MATHCOUNTS. There are three parts of the competition:  Sprint Round (40 minutes to answer 30 problems with no calculator), Target Round (four pairs of problems, with 6 minutes to answer each pair of problems with a calculator), and Team Round (competing in a team of four, 20 minutes to answer 10 problems with a calculator). The top 12-16 individuals from the written Sprint and Target Rounds then compete in a head-to-head round called the Countdown Round, where they have 30 seconds to answer a question correctly before their opponent does. The Countdown Round is bracket style and is not an official part of the Chapter or State competitions (it is used in an official capacity at the National competition, where the winner of the Countdown Round is the winner of the entire competition).

The top teams and individuals of the Chapter competition are invited to compete in the State MATHCOUNTS competition – the number of teams and individuals invited from each Chapter competition varies based on how many schools compete in that Chapter.