Living Wisdom School Takes a Unique Approach to International Math Competition
Living Wisdom School has participated in two prestigious national and international mathematics competitions for more than ten years: The American Mathematical Competitions, and the International Mathematical Olympiads.
In our school, we take a very different approach to these very challenging tests.
The official description of the Mathematical Olympiads says:
“Most of those participating in our contests rank among the best mathematics students in their schools. Therefore, if you earned an individual award, you rank among the best of the best internationally.”
Note that in most schools, only the most gifted and academically advanced students take the Olympiads. In these schools, the students receive a great deal of special preparation for the tests, including weekly practice tests, and intensive individual mentoring. Preparing for the Math Olympiads is often a central focus of the after-school math club.
Many schools devote major effort to ensure that their top students will do well in these contests, believing that high scores will attract talented students to their schools and enhance the school’s academic reputation.
(A few schools go so far as to lodge protests when their students are stumped by the deliberately complex verbal test questions.)
Our approach to these contests is based on a central principle of our school’s philosophy: We do not believe in “studying to the test!”
We believe that our students are better served by helping them individually to develop the enthusiasm and skills that will enable them to be successful in their academic subjects, including mathematics. We strive to help them make the greatest possible gains at their own level.
In sharp distinction to the approach of other schools, at LWS, all of our students in grades 4-8 take the tests without any special preparation, as part of the normal daily flow of the school year.
Our students take the tests not to gauge themselves against the brightest young students in the world, but as a fun way to challenge themselves and measure their own individual progress.
At LWS, our overriding concern is how our students’ math skills are improving individually over the years. This is in keeping with our philosophy of helping each child to experience the joy and satisfaction of overcoming academic challenges at their own level. This is why we focus on improving math skills rather than improving test performance. We have found that focusing on skills improves test results naturally and enjoyably.
The positive results of this approach are reflected in our students’ performance when they enter high school. Many of our students test out of freshman math. Occasionally, they may test out of algebra, geometry, and even trigonometry.
A Greater Challenge
A unique aspect of our approach to the Olympiads and the AMC is that our students take the tests that are designed for older students in the later grades.
For example, our 4th through 6th graders take the Olympiad E, which is designed to challenge 6th graders, and all of our 4th through 8th graders take the Olympiad M, which is designed to challenge 8th graders.
Our approach to these prestigious international tests is: “It’s all in a day’s work.” As mentioned, we do no special preparation. For example, some of the tests fall during the week just before the all-school theater production, which is an extremely busy time of the year for the children, when there is little time for last-minute test “cramming.”
We feel this is, by far, a healthier approach for the children. The academic training that we offer them is very rigorous, without subjecting them to a high-pressure testing atmosphere that would have no real purpose other than to use their test scores to enhance the reputation of our school. Thus, we conduct the tests in an atmosphere of relaxed challenge where their self-esteem is not at stake.
As an example of how our approach works, during the 2015-16 academic year some of our youngest students who took the tests (4th graders) scored in the top 30% on the 8th grade test. Very impressive! And two students scored in the top 5% internationally. Extremely impressive!
The fact that an unusually high proportion of our students are performing far above grade level is reflected in their results on these tests, and in the fact that many of our students test well ahead of grade level upon entering high school.
It’s natural that some of our LWS students perform exceptionally well in math, given the amazing Silicon Valley parental “math gene pool.” But a more important question is: are the gifted students being challenged in our school? Are they being trained to be enthusiastic students who will challenge themselves in high school and beyond?
The answer again, we feel, is reflected in our students’ progress as they enter high school and college. As mentioned, many of our graduates test out of high school freshman algebra, and some test out of geometry and even trigonometry. Moreover, our graduates have been accepted at prestigious universities, including Stanford, UC Berkeley (physics major), University of Michigan (Ross School of Business), Cornell (mathematics major), University of Bremen, Germany (PhD program in Space Technology and Microgravity), and other top schools.
LWS Students Comment on the Tests
“It’s nice to do a challenge.”
“The tests make us take math more seriously. It is big and hard, but fun!”
“The tests help us use the other side of our brains.”
Two Kinds of Test Atmosphere – Healthy and Unhealthy
Over the years, our middle school teacher, Gary McSweeney, has carefully monitored the atmosphere in the classroom while the students take these very challenging tests. Gary has been pleased to notice that it is much more relaxed than the stereotypical, high-pressure test scenario where the teachers are pressuring the students to do well, and where the students often feel that their self-worth is on the line.
Gary says, “I would say that they enjoy the concentrated effort of taking a timed test in silence. The questions require the students to employ creative, out-of-the-box strategies to solve problems. These are not multiple-choice tests, so there is no possibility of them guessing the correct answer! In part, they are reading-comprehension problems. They challenge the students to carefully analyze the question and understand what is being asked. Our students enjoy taking the tests as a way to demonstrate their skills, and to see where they can improve their understanding and knowledge.”
What Are the Mathematical Olympiads?
Nearly 150,000 students participate on nearly 5100 teams every year in the global Math Olympiads.
The Math Olympiads are a series of five timed tests, given monthly throughout the year, with five problems in each.
The goals of the Math Olympiads are: (1) to develop mathematical flexibility in problem solving, (2) to strengthen mathematical intuition, and (3) to foster mathematical creativity and ingenuity.
What Is the American Mathematics Contest (AMC 8 and 10)?
The AMC competitions are sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America, which has held the contests for 60 years.
The competitions include the AMC 8, designed for eighth graders, and the AMC 10, designed for advanced high school sophomores.
These timed tests are intended to challenge students by offering them problem-solving experiences beyond those provided in most junior high and high school math classrooms.
The AMC 8 has 150,000 participants nationwide, and the AMC 10 has 31,000.
Living Wisdom School Math Awards through the Years
2015/16 Math Olympiads – Division E (Grades 4-6)
LWS Students in top 50%: 2 (Grade 6)
Top 40%: 2 (Grades 5, 6)
Top 30%: 1 (Grade 4)
Top 25%: 1 (Grade 5)
Top 20%: 4 (Grades 5, 5, 6, 6)
Top 2%: 1 (Gold Pin; Grade 6)
Team Score: 153
2015-16 Math Olympiads – Division M (Grades 6-8)
Living Wisdom School Statistics:
Top 10%: 1
Top 30%: 1
Top 40%: 3
Top 50%: 6
Year after year, students from Living Wisdom School perform extremely well on two difficult international tests of mathematics achievement. For an in-depth conversation about how middle-schoolers learn math at LWS, follow the link to this very interesting interview with middle-school teacher Gary McSweeney.
The AMC 8
The AMC 8 for junior-high students includes many problems that demand math skills and experience far beyond those provided in most junior high math classes.
Congratulations to Freya Edholm of LWS, who achieved a perfect score of 25 – the only perfect score by a sixth-grader in the state of California on the AMC 8 for eighth-graders. Of the 20,571 sixth-graders who took the AMC 8 worldwide, only 6 achieved a perfect 25. And of the 152,691 students in grades 5-8 worldwide who took the AMC 8, only 225 students achieved a perfect score. The average score was 10.67.
The Math Olympiads
In 2013, 103,592 students participated in the Olympiads from 49 states, 9 American territories, and 25 foreign countries. In most schools, only the best math students participate, but at LWS all students take the Olympiad M exam for 8th grade and below and the Olympiad E for 6th grade and below.
Of the 19,541 students who took the Olympiad M exam for 8th grade and below, Freya Edholm of Living Wisdom School was the only 6th-grade girl in the state of California to achieve a perfect score of 25. Congratulations, Freya!
Elizabeth Peters and Andrew Dollente won the silver pin for scoring 17 and 19 points respectively.
Living Wisdom School celebrates the following students.
Olympiad E (Elementary)
Freya Edholm (5th grade) earned a gold pin with a score of 24 out of 25, placing her in the top 2% of students taking the test internationally.
Pongsa Tayjasanant (4th grade, score 18 out of 25) and Jason Fu (4th grade, score 20 out of 25) were awarded silver pins, placing them in the top 10% of students taking the test worldwide.
Placing in the top 50% and earning a Felt Patch were Kalyan Narayanan, Tyler Keen, Andrew Dollente, Divya Thekkath, and Emma Farley.
Olympiad M (Middle School)
Fifth-grader Freya Edholm’s score of 22 out of 25 earned her a gold pin and placed her in the top 2% in this test for 6th to 8th graders.
Percy Jiang scored 16 out of 25, earning a silver pin, placing him in the top 10%.
Scoring in the top 50% and earning a Felt Patch were Mariah Stewart, Jason Fu, Kelly Olivier, Sita Chandraekaran, Kalyan Narayanan, Kieran Rege, and Pongsa Tayjasanant.
The American Mathematics Contests (AMC 8)
The AMC8 has over 150,000 student contestants from more than 2,400 U.S. schools.
Freya Edholm (5th grade) scored 20, which placed her in the top 5% of students on the Olympiad M which is for students in grades 6-8.
Jason Fu’s score of 15 qualified him for a Certificate of Achievement for 5th grade students.
Sahana Narayana, in 7th grade, scored 24 correct for the 99.3 percentile overall. Incredible job, Sahana!
Freya Edholm, in 4th grade, scored 18 correct for the 93.3 percentile overall. Another incredible result. Well done, Freya!
Sergey Gasparyan, 7th grade, scored 14 correct for the 82.2 percentile overall. Well done, Sergey!
Alex Tuharsky, 8th grade, chose not to take the AMC 8 this year. Instead, Alex focused his efforts on the online Calculus B class that he is taking through the Gifted Children Program at Stanford University. He is receiving an A grade in this class! Great job, Alex!
Sergey Gasparyan, 7th grade, was awarded a “Young Student Certificate of Achievement” for his score of 112 on the AMC10, designed for advanced high school sophomores. Well done, Sergey!
Congratulations to the LWS students who completed the AMC 8! Notable scores were achieved by many students for their age group:
- Lucas Munro, 7th grade, 93.8 percentile
- Alex Tuharsky, 7th grade, 91.1 percentile
- Sahana Narayana, 6th grade, 94.7 percentile
- Sergey Gasparyan, 6th grade, 88.8 percentile
Recent LWS Graduates Test into Advanced High School Courses
Hazemach, now a freshman at Woodside Priory, tested out of Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II/Trig, and began his freshman year in Pre-Calculus with the advanced 11th and 12th grade students. Shortly after, he was placed in the Calculus Class, becoming the first student in Woodside Priory’s history to achieve this honor! (Update 2016: Hazemach is now a PhD student at the University of Bremen, Germany, in Space Technology and Microgravity.)
Zachary Munro, now a freshman at Gunn High, placed into Algebra II/Trig, the most advanced sophomore class, and a weighted course for the UC system. Gunn High waived Zachary’s placement test based on his ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) and SAT scores.
LWS Students Score well in the AMC
AMC 8 Results
Zachary Munro, now a freshman at Gunn High, came in third place, scoring 18 (92nd percentile worldwide). George Selley (5th grade) and Alex Tuharsky (6th grade) tied for second place and earned a place on the Honor Roll for their scores, and on the Achievement Roll for their scores for their grade level. They both scored 20 (96th percentile of all grades worldwide). Hazemach, now a freshman at Woodside Priory, came in first place and made the International Honor Roll, scoring 21 (97th percentile worldwide).
AMC 10 Results
The AMC 10 is designed for advanced high school sophomores. Alex Tuharsky (6th grade, score 73.5) came in third place. Hazemach (8th grade, score 84) came in second, and George Selley (5th grade) earned a Certificate of Achievement with a score of 90!
Living Wisdom School received a Certificate of Merit for our overall performance in the AMC 8.
Results: Surya Thekkath (now a Freshman at Pinewood), Sahana Narayana (5th grade), Sergey Gasparayan (5th grade), Zachary Munro (now a freshman at Gunn High), and Alex Ewan (now a freshman at Everest High) earned patches by scoring in the 50-89 percentile.
Hazemach (now a Freshman at Woodside Priory) and Alex Tuharsky (6th grade) scored 17 (top 10%) to earn a silver pin. George Selley (5th grade) scored an impressive 22 out of 25 for a Gold Pin. Congratulations, one and all!
The American Mathematics Contest for 8th graders (AMC8) was held on Nov 6, 2006. Participating in the event were 180,000 students from approximately 2400 schools nationwide.
Congratulations to Rewa Bush (7th grade) and Jessica Wallace (8th grade) who tied for first place at LWS! They qualified for the AMC8 National Honor Roll by scoring in the top 5% of all students who participated.
William Prince (7th grade) received the second-place award at LWS, and Amy Hahn (7th grade) received the third-place award.
During a recent all-school circle we celebrated the results of the American Mathematics Contest 8. Targeted at 8th graders, the AMC8 offers very challenging problems (click here for examples). It includes 25 questions; to get even six answers correct is considered a laudable achievement.
Over 100,000 students from 2,500 U.S. schools took the AMC8. Students from Living Wisdom School were among the best!
Brian Wallace (7th grade) scored 18 and received the prized Honor Roll Certificate of Distinction for placing in the top 2% of all participants! This award honors both the student and the school.
Within our school, Brian Wallace placed first, followed by Ben Madison and Ethan Toolis-Byrd, each with a score of 17. Ethan also received an award for improving the most on the AMC8 from last year to this year.
Our third-place winner was Nicolas Hahn with a score of 16.
Finally, 6th graders Jessica Wallace and Johanna Molina Barajas received awards for having the highest score of 14 within their grade.
Congratulations to all the students who took the test. Our class average was 12.8, up two points from last year, a significant accomplishment! Special congratulations to middle school math teachers Dharmaraj Iyer and Gary McSweeney, who communicate enthusiasm and love for math to their students.