The Club: The Virtual Math Club is for students who are interested in developing their mathematical problem solving skills using problems similar to those found on math contests such as the AMC 8, AMC 10, MATHCOUNTS, or the middle school math olympiads. I’ll post a problem set each week, and then come back later in the week and post the answers and video solutions. I also have plans to post lessons on key topics that are not typically covered in the standard mathematics curriculum such as combinatorics, probability, and number theory.
The problems here are different from normal school math exercises. In school, whenever you learn a new math skill, the teacher will assign exercises to practice that new skill. With exercises, the approach is pretty straight forward and you just need to practice applying the new skill quickly and accurately. It’s similar to lifting weights to strengthen your muscles. With problems, the approach is not straight forward. It requires flexibility and creativity to be able to try different things, and look at a problem from different angles, until your find a solution. Problems are more like climbing a mountain. To climb a mountain, you need strong muscles, but the best path to the top isn’t always obvious, and you need to have a variety of skills and be flexible with those skills in order to respond to obstacles along the way. Sometimes you might even find your first approach isn’t going to work, and you have to back up and take a different approach. That’s the biggest difference between the math kids typically learn in school, and the math required for math contests. Math contests require problem solving.
But even if you are not interested in participating in math contests, you will benefit from sharpening your problem-solving skills. You’ll probably even enjoy it. These problems are fun, more like puzzles. The process of solving a problem can be frustrating, but solving a hard problem is extremely satisfying and leaves you craving more. And the more problems you solve, the better problem solver you’ll become. You’ll develop the persistence, patience, and perseverance it takes to be a good problem solver.
Right now the problems will be primarily middle school and early high school contest problems because I teach the middle school level Competitive Math Training through the Edina Center for Academic Excellence, so I have the most material prepared for that level. Since the problems sets and solutions are geared toward middle school and early high school students, I assume students are skilled at working with fractions, decimals, percents, and ratios, and are familiar with basic probability. Algebra is not a prerequisite, but I do assume that students have some experience solving equations and working with square roots and exponents. Basic volume and area formulas should be understood, and students should know how to use the Pythagorean theorem.
Eventually I would like to expand to include high school level contest problems sets, but to begin, I’ll use mainly middle school level problems. But that doesn’t mean a high school student wouldn’t benefit from working on these problems. If you’re a high school student who hasn’t had much experience with problem solving, or hasn’t been exposed to topics in combinatorics, probability, or number theory, this would be a great place to start! Parents might even have fun trying the problems themselves.
The Coach: Jolene Gleason has a M.S. degree in electrical engineering as well as B.S. degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics from Iowa State University. She was named ISU’s Outstanding Senior in Electrical Engineering in 1987. She worked as an electrical engineer for 15 years before becoming a full-time homeschool parent to her highly gifted son. Early in her career she also taught Power Systems Analysis and Technical Calculus at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. She currently teaches middle-school Competitive Math Training through the Edina Center for Academic Excellence and serves on the board of the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented. Jolene lives in Golden Valley, MN with her husband and 15-year-old budding rocket scientist.