Online Math Contest Attracts Thousands of Visitors Worldwide

COLUMBUS, Ga. Walk into any room and ask how many people hate math, and many hands are sure to go up.

Oh, does that infuriate David Rock.

Why is it socially acceptable to be illiterate in math? he asks. Weve got to change that.

Rock, a lifelong math teacher who is now dean of Columbus State Universitys College of Education, has spent years trying to change perceptions of math. One of his efforts, an online math contest, has already reached thousands of people around the globe and is now poised to reach even more.

Research has long shown that combining math with technology will only aid in the learning process. So when the Internet first started spreading in popularity about a decade ago, Rock found a way to combine technology with learning. And he made it fun.

He and a colleague at the University of Central Florida, where he then taught, created some online math contests long before Google or other Internet search engines went online. Not just equations, but brain teasers and real-life scenarios for different age levels. The pair didnt advertise or tell many about it, but people online found the site. Rock promised that everyone who answered correctly would have their name posted on the Web site.

We never post the answers because we want it to be a teaching tool as well as a place where people have to think, Rock said. Teachers know that if their students name is on the site, they submitted the correct answer.

The idea took off and followed Rock as he became a professor and moved to new positions at other universities. At its zenith, the online contest was attracting a million hits a year. He even talked the White House into including a math challenge on its Web site at http://www.whitehouse.gov/kids/. His ability to maintain the site has ebbed over the years as his teaching career progressed. But fans of the contest kept paying attention to it and kept asking Rock to keep it going. Now an administrator at Columbus State University, Rock is collapsing all the math contests hes done into one mega online math contest site at www.colstate.edu/mathcontest.

Once again, people are finding the site. Turned a few weeks ago just to test everything, the Problem of the Week was viewed 41,900 times during the month of October. Answers are coming from across the United States, Spain, Scotland, China, India, Greece, Sweden and Egypt. Each response is read, so those who are having a problem or need a hint can ask for help.

This Web site has really taken on a life of its own. When I became too busy to keep it up, I was overwhelmed with requests to start it again. That shows me there is a thirst out there for math, Rock said. It just has to be packaged the right way and be presented to people especially kids in a way that keeps them interested and keeps them thinking. Too many of our kids lose interest in math as they become older. Perhaps its because its not cool or because they dont think its relevant. But whatever the reason, weve got to do what we can to change that perception.

CSUs new, improved math contest site features the original puzzler that brought him online recognition, the Problem of the Week, plus Algebra in Action, Middle School Madness and Elementary Brain Teaser.

Occasionally, a visitor to the site will submit more than an answer and will send a note that inspires Rock to keep working on his puzzles. A recent one read:

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for continuing the Math Contest Web site for our kids. My daughter is in fourth grade and quite bright. We found your site late last spring at the University of Massachusetts. She took to it like a fish to water. Each week she wants to be as close to the top of the list as possible, so it was a real boost for me to see shes No. 1 on your first contest. She will be absolutely thrilled when she gets home from school today. Thanks so much for all you do for our kids.