Cool in School: Math at Mpls Southwest HS adds up to success

5:03 PM, Feb 24, 2011   |    comments
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Math team scores big number at Southwest High School
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  • MINNEAPOLIS -- Bagels and doughnuts beckon as students filter into a classroom at Southwest High School in Minneapolis.  It's 7:45 a.m. and the room is already full.

    Teachers David McMayer and Bill Towne move from table to table, offering guidance as students pour over math problems.  But this is not a regular class time.  The students in the room are here because they're members of Southwest's math team.

    "Math team is kind of one of the bigger activities in the school," said senior Amanuel Zewdie, who's been a team member for two years.

    It hasn't always been this way.  When McMayer signed on as a coach five years ago, the school had about twenty people in the team.

    Now?  "We have 144 active members, which is pretty cool, since that's a gross.  We're a gross math team," quipped McMayer.

    "I think a big part of it is that teachers really reward kids for participating in math team," said Jason Paller-Rzepka, an M.I.T-bound senior who is captain of the varsity math team.

    "Here, math teachers are saying, 'Hey, if you want extra credit in class, you can go join the math team, hang out with some friends, do some math, go to a meet,'" said Paller-Rzepka.

    Students at Southwest can boost their math grade by a full percentage point for each math meet they participate in. That could add up to four percent during the fall semester.

    Students also point to the generous supply of food on hand for drawing in team members.  The underlying theme, though, is math team at Southwest is fun.

    "It's a way to socialize with friends, but to also enjoy math because that's what I do," said Kirsten Wiard-Bauer, a junior who also takes college level math at the University of Minnesota.

    Not every student on the team is driven by math, but McMayer hopes the program will prompt more students to study math concepts independently to gain some deeper understanding of the subject.

    Currently, Southwest's varsity math team ranks sixth in the state, showing some impressive talent.

    But perhaps the most impressive thing of all, is the fact that Southwest has managed to make math cool, which is a win in anyone's book.

    "When we show up in two buses, and all of these kids get off and they're all wearing matching shirts and they have their calculators in one hand and their pencils in another, it's kind of cool to see that," said an obviously proud McMayer.

    (Copyright 2011 by KARE. All rights reserved.)

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