By Jim Bailey
For The Herald Bulletin
An ice cream sandwich box can hold 216 cubic centimeters in volume. The dimensions of an ice cream sandwich are 1 cm x 9 cm x 4 cm. How many ice cream sandwiches can fit in the box? (a) 36, (b) 14, (c) 6, (d) 5
Problems like this are no problem for a group of fourth-graders at Maxwell Intermediate School in Hancock County. One of them is my grandson, Ronnie Roberts, 10. They competed with fifth- and sixth-graders in the regional Math Bowl at Sugar Creek Elementary, and they beat all comers.
That wasn’t all. When scores were tallied from all the regionals, not only was the Maxwell team the second best in Indiana but was state champion at the fourth-grade level.
Our daughter Ruth, his proud mom, was there for the Math Bowl. She watched as the kids spouted off the answers with little hesitation. “Sadly, I knew very few of the answers,” she admitted. “My son is smarter than me…”
The Math Bowl is sponsored by the Indiana Association of School Principals in conjunction with Purdue University. Up to 20 students are on a team, comprised of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. They are chosen based on their Math Bowl test score and teacher recommendations, the team formed in January and practicing after school twice a week until the contest in early March. The competition consists of four rounds with students working in teams of three.
“My son is a freak of nature in math,” Ruth quipped. “I humbly admit his math skills did NOT come from me!”
Nor me. When I was his age I had to spend most of my class time laboriously working my math problems while the other students were doing other subjects. My language skills and spelling were exceptional, but when it came to math I had to figuratively sit and turn a crank in my brain to grind out the answer to 6x9 plus 5 divided by 7 or one-fourth divided by one-half.
Bonnie, on the other hand, is pretty good at math. So is Ruth’s twin sister Becky, becoming an accountant. Sarah does pretty well as a school cashier. But Ruth didn’t like math. And their older sister Rachel literally sat and cried when her mom tried to help her with high school accounting (So what is Rachel doing for a living? Data entry for Cincinnati Financial Insurance Co.).
So-called common wisdom is that boys do better in math than girls. If so, Ronnie fits the mold. His cousin LeeAnn, on the other hand, is having trouble with eighth-grade algebra. My first thought was: Could Ronnie tutor her? Her mother Sarah admitted to having the same reaction.
Right now Ronnie loves baseball and is pretty good at it. But since less than 1 percent of all baseball players ever earn major league salaries, his mathematical ability could come in handy in adulthood, where engineering types command big bucks.
Jim Bailey’s column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.