VMI Hosts Middle School Math Day

VMI students, known as cadets, work with an area middle school math student as part of a problem-solving program at a military college in Virginia.

LEXINGTON, Va., Feb. 17, 2023—Middle School Math Day was held Feb. 16 at Virginia Military Institute’s Marshall Hall.

Area middle and high school students have been participating in mathematics events hosted by VMI’s Department of Applied Mathematics since 2013. The middle school events have proved to be most popular, drawing up to 600 students each year. At each event, students take a test as part of a national mathematics contest, listen to an engaging talk on math and science from VMI faculty, and take a cadet-led tour of post.

During the pandemic, the events were put on pause, which provided the opportunity to reevaluate the program’s interactions with area students. With the reevaluation, it was seen that high school events were still hitting the mark, as the national math test was challenging and at the appropriate level for the students who came. The program saw the middle school events, although popular, could see improvement.

Instead of reinforcing negative views of mathematics, the department chose to revamp the competition portion of the middle school event. Relying on the expertise of their faculty, and in consultation with area middle school math teachers, a new competition focusing on “mathematical modeling” was created.

At Middle School Math Day, students were given one question to answer: “How many people are streaming video right now?” They were also given data about the population of the world, time zones, internet access, and more. Students were not judged by whether or not they get the right answer; rather, they were judged by their process of determining an answer. While the old math competition relied on individual mathematical problem-solving skills, the new competition is team-based making it more accessible to everyone and allows for more creativity.

The room was full of energy as students worked through their solutions, later creating a PowerPoint presentation explaining their work, then shared their findings with students from other schools.

When asked about their favorite part of the day, participants referenced the satisfaction of completing the challenge, being able to present to their peers, and generally having fun at the event. One teacher even remarked to VMI faculty how for the first time she had students rushing to her afterwards to share their answers, something that had not happened with the previous testing format.

Col. Gregory N. Hartman, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Applied Mathematics

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