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World Math Day makes learning fun

Just out of curiosity, I logged onto the World Math Day Web site Friday and was surprised to see that nine of the top 10 teams in the world were from Malaysia, and six of the nine top Malaysian teams were from Cempaka International School, an elite, private school.

The only other team to crack the top 10 was one from Turkey.

Then, I clicked onto the top students from around the world, expecting maybe to see China, Japan, Germany, and possibly a team from the United States. But, on the contrary, the top 10 students, in order, came from Australia, Turkey, Jordan, Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Australia and Indonesia.

Earlier in the week, I had dropped by Braden River Elementary School, and talked to several teachers and students. I found a lot of enthusiasm there for World Math Day.

Students logged onto worldmathday.com, and sought to be the fastest on the draw with math answers. They were competing on the Internet with students from more than 100 countries. And they were having fun doing it. Teachers reported vast improvement in a number of students to get ready for the competition.

I asked Joe MacNaughton, mathematics curriculum specialist for the Manatee County School District, to give me his off-the-cuff analysis late Friday.

MacNaughton zoomed in on so many of the top teams being from Cempaka International School, and wondered how much time teachers had spent getting their students ready.

A Bradenton Herald staff member familiar with Cempaka said that many of the students come from wealthy families or from diplomat families stationed in Malaysia.

So, precisely, what does World Math Day prove? Schools or students that scored at the top come away with some bragging rights, maybe.

But the bottom line is that the event injected fun and enthusiasm into an academic subject that’s not exactly known for engendering either.

And it came locally on top of a week that included Read Across Manatee and final preparations for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests that begin next week.

MacNaughton, a Palmetto native who majored in math in college, says that math can and should be fun.

There are lots of programs to combat illiteracy, the inability to read. There is also something to be said for combating the inability to add, subtract, divide and multiply.

“The worst thing a parent can do is say to their child, ‘Oh, I hate math.’ It builds in an excuse right away,” MacNaughton said.

MacNaughton’s parents weren’t sure why their children had the gift. Joe’s brother is an engineer.

“They always blamed it on the Legos,” MacNaughton said.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.

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