As I entered Mrs. Giuffrida’s room during I Block on Thursday, I found her with a group of math students engaged in animated debate. “I think I did horrible, but it was fun!” exclaimed one student. “What answer did you get for this question?” “No, that was wrong!” “How about this question?” “YES!!” Pizza and chocolate chip cookies fueled students’ energy as they pored over a packet of answers and grilled each other (and themselves) on the details of their performance.
What I was witnessing was the celebration–and debrief–of this year’s Mathcounts competition. At 8:00 am on Saturday, February 24, a team of nine Viewpoint Middle School students, led by Middle School math teacher Pat Giuffrida, arrived at California State University Northridge to participate in the Mathcounts contest, sponsored this year by Raytheon. Each year, students in grades six through eight are invited to challenge themselves and engage in friendly competition with approximately 150 other students from about 16 participating schools.
Competition rounds include the “sprint round” (focusing on speed and accuracy), the “target round (emphasizing problem-solving and mathematical reasoning), the “team round” (testing collaborative problem-solving), and the optional “countdown round” (again, focusing on speed and accuracy through timed questions).
At the moment of my arrival to their debrief, the Viewpoint team had not yet received their scores. However, as Mrs. Giuffrida reminded them, the score wasn’t the point. As I watched our team expertly analyzing their participation and strategizing with their coach about how they might prepare for next year’s event, all the while joking over pizza and sharing anecdotes from the day, it was clear that our team had hit right on target. As Daniel Pink notes in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, when the process is enjoyed as much or more than the outcome, that is when the work itself becomes meaningful and rewarding–and our students were clearly winners. Congratulations, Mathcounts Team!