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Story | Education
22 March 2018

In a field where every question has only one answer, what can teamwork achieve?


Grade 5 mathematicians from Qatar Academy Doha, used to excelling individually, break out of their silos and see what it’s like to solve math problems as part of a team.

Hessa Al Hitmi, Chloe Huyler, Hannah Huyler, and Rhouda Al Asmak — students at Qatar Academy Doha (QAD) — spent their last phase of elementary school representing Qatar at the ECIS International Math Quest.

Up until they learned about their eligibility to participate in the annual international event, solving math problems meant getting the right answers. But from 3-6 May 2018, the schoolmates were up against 25 student teams hailing from four continents in a 3-day competition that was held in Stockholm, Sweden.

Was being right the luck they needed to challenge the best and brightest Grade 5 mathematicians in the world?

Al Hitmi does not think so.

“So far, I’ve learned that everyone has different answers and something different to contribute. You might think that you’re right and that is all, but when you talk to others, you can learn new strategies.”

To perform better, one needs to know not only what the right answer is, but how other players in the game are thinking and how to potentially outsmart them.

If Al Hitmi is right, it is not because individual mathematical challenges—where students are independently tested on their critical abilities—are comparatively unimportant in group-based contests. Rather, it is because individualized assessments never actually take place in silos, but always amidst a collective of other individually tested students.

To perform better, one needs to know not only what the right answer is, but how other players in the game are thinking and how to potentially outsmart them.

This is especially critical in team-based games and competitions, which actually make up the majority of the event’s activities. While the challenges that occur at the Math Quest vary year to year, they typically feature a ‘Math Trail,’ involving a museum or public venue math hunt; a day of problem-solving ‘Investigations,’ and a ‘Construction Challenge’ that requires students to construct a specified object within 60 minutes.

Succeeding in these practical group challenges necessitates, at the very least, a basic knowledge of teamwork—an element typically unassociated with one of the most daunting fields for students. As the problem solvers of the future, these children are taught not to settle for the correct answer, as reality often demands that they contrast it with what doesn’t work and understanding why it, instead, does.

In facilitating strategies aimed at developing community-based projects for the common good, these events require that children have some experience working in a team.

“In selecting the current team, who are all part of QAD, we assessed the individual scores of each student and how they might deal with being in a team, and the perseverance that takes,” stated Melissa Woods, a teacher at QAD and one of the team’s coaches.

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For Cynthia Bolton, the team’s other coach, the event is a key example of how Qatar Foundation is empowering students to push their limits and learn the value of team-based challenges.

“These competitions allow certain children to be successful together, and to develop friendships that they may not have had,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see these students joined together, competing as one, solely because of their collective love of math.”

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