Nathaniel Bruno is an excellent student who enjoys math. Recently, the 6-year-old Bridgewater resident joined more than 90 fellow students from 18 communities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island at Bridgewater State University to take part in the Math Kangaroo, an international competition designed to help students develop their skills and enjoy mathematics.
“It was pretty fun,” Nathanial said. “There were a lot of people who did different things, like multiplication and addition.”
As for how he did on the test. He was confident.
“I tried my best,” he said.
The Math Kangaroo is a competition for students in grades one through 12, held each year around the world on the third Thursday in March, that takes the form of a multiple-choice test. The atmosphere is fun and encouraging, much more fun and less stressful than MCAS.
“The students all leave with a feeling of success and achievement,” said Dr. Polina Sabinin, assistant professor of mathematics at BSU, who brought the first-ever Math Kangaroo to campus, along with her colleague Professor Rebecca Metcalf. “The goals are attainable and get more challenging as they move up. The kids don’t come out saying they didn’t do well. It’s like a big party at the end.”
The professor has been involved with the event for the past three years and saw a need locally.
“I saw few opportunities like this in the area,” she said. “I really wanted to bring this to BSU to showcase what we do for the community and to provide local kids with a chance to engage with math in a way that’s more approachable.”
The heart of the competition is the 75-minute multiple-choice test. There are 24 questions for students in grades one through four, and 30 for grades five and up. The students work independently and their test is scored; in May, gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded, along with grants and other prizes to the top placing participants. Each student also gets a T-shirt, a certificate and other gifts, to make sure everyone feels like they’ve earned something.
“They loved it and asked ‘Are we doing it next year?’” recalled Lauren Aubertine, a math teacher at New Bedford’s Normandin Middle School. She brought a dozen students to campus for a tour and the competition (funded in large part by Gear Up, a national initiative to encourage more young people to have high expectations, stay in school and study hard). The day had a huge effect on the young mathematicians, Ms. Aubertine said. Not only did the students get to see what a university looks like close up, they got to talk to people who spend their careers in the world of mathematics.
“Plus they got to eat with the BSU students and they thought that was the coolest,” she said.
The competition fits well with BSU’s mission, said Dr. Arthur Goldstein, dean of the Bartlett College of Science and Mathematics.
“The K-12 outreach evidenced by the recent Math Kangaroo competition is the kind of work we’ve been doing for some time and will continue to do,” he said.
These types of programs brought the institution in direct contact last year with more than 10,000 area middle and high school students and 350 teachers, he added.
“We believe strongly that this serves the students and teachers of the region, as well as the commonwealth, and also helps to maintain an interest in science and mathematics in K-12 students, helping to guide them in to university degree programs and jobs,” the dean said.
Nathaniel Bruno’s mother, Astrid Rojas said her son wasn’t the only one who benefitted from Math Kangaroo.
“It was an experience for me, too,” she said. “I not only expect the schools to teach, but it’s also my job. It gave me some insight into what to expect when he gets older.”
Dr. Sabinin was assisted throughout the event by roughly 40 BSU student volunteers and a half dozen faculty members. She said attendance at BSU’s inaugural competition wildly exceeded her initial estimates.
“We did not expect this kind of turnout,” she said.
Might there be a Math Kangaroo next March at BSU?
“We’re already planning it,” she said.
Participants hailed from the following communities, Acushnet, Bellingham,Bridgewater, Bristol, Brockton, Easton, Foxboro,Georgetown, Hanover, Mansfield, New Bedford, Norfolk, North Attleboro, North Easton, Providence, R.I., South Easton, Swansea, Taunton and Woods Hole. (Photos submitted, story by John Winters, G '11, University Advancement)