About Acalympics

Academics Olympic Style

It has been a while since I have updated this page and I figured it was time for a remodel. First I will start with the story behind Acalympics.

When I was in 6th grade, my school district hosted a district wide competition open to all students. The challenge was to create a product to meet an under met or unmet need in education. I thought it sounded like fun, and signed up for the competition. I immediately started researching how the USA performed in mathematics. The results were horrific! In 2015 only 33% of 4th graders were considered proficient in mathematics, and a mere 25% of 8th graders were proficient according to Pew Research Center. I began doing more research and learned two very important concepts:

  1. Algebra is called the gatekeeper subject. Algebra alone serves as a measure of predictability for success in higher level mathematic course
  2. Algebra is the most failed course in high schools and colleges
At that point in my school career, I had not taken Algebra yet, but I was becoming more and more aware of how important it was. While researching how I could help underperforming students in math, I noticed a trend. The common theme was strong math fluency helps build strong mathematical learners. I realized this was an area I could address. Learning math facts, known as math fluency, is extremely beneficial. I reasoned that if one's brain is not bogged down trying to figure out the answer to an addition, multiplication, division, or subtraction problem it is free to engage in higher level thinking. I also reasoned that I could address this area in a more engaging fashion than simple worksheets. Consequently, I decided to create a product where answering math questions correctly, not necessarily quickly, would earn you points. Then I could create a running total of those points for display.

I used the Olympics as my inspiration, and made teams. In the Olympics, you have several different athletes with different strengths all working towards a common goal, earning the gold for their country. In Acalympics, I wanted to do the same thing. The students would all be placed on a team, and could login to earn points, by answering fluency questions correctly, for their team Every week the top three teams would be awarded the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. Additionally, I wanted to make the teams flexible, so if one grade is constantly outperforming another, you could rearrange the teams for a closer competition. My ultimate goal is not only for the school to compete with themselves, but to host this competition, so schools can compete against other schools, and districts against districts (I am still working on that). My reason for this is, at the end of the day, there is a whole lot of math fact review going on. That story has been present on this website for several years now. Therefore, what you might not be aware of is that which I discovered in doing more research behind mathematics for Acalympics.

As established earlier, the United States does not perform very well in mathematics. While looking for the cause for this lack of performance, I discovered some very interesting information. Essentially, as children’s brains develop, their math fact fluency location shifts from the hippocampus to the neocortex; however, the hippocampus still retains a backup of the math facts in adulthood. What this means is that developing a strong basis for mathematical fluency positively impacts the mathematical performance of students during this transition time and it sets up a “memory scaffold” for students ("How children's”, 2014, para. 11). However, to reinforce this development of pertinent mathematical fluency skills in students, a pedagogical shift is required.

A geometry teacher utilized a similar concept to my ideas to great success with his students. Originally, he used the pedagogical strategy of collaboration; however, he switched to attempting to use competitive collaboration where groups of students would compete against one another. Not only did their mathematical results improve, but they also had improved attendance and attentiveness in the classroom setting. This means that shifting the strategy of mathematical instruction from one of competition or collaboration alone to one of competitive collaboration will improve mathematical understanding and performance (DiNapoli, 2018).

Lastly, Ansari (2013) mentions that the endless discourse on whether to emphasize repetition of basic arithmetic or mathematical conceptualization should be ceased as both are equally important (Ansari, 2013). Do note, however, that Acalympics helps make the rote task of memorization more engaging therefore allowing for conceptualization in class.

As for a bit about me, I am a rising senior at the Math and Science Academy at Ocean Lakes High School. I wish to pursue a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering with an interest in the career path of Machine Learning Engineering but these plans are not yet finalized. I enjoy music as I play piano as well as alto saxophone with my school (where I am a part of the Ocean Lakes Wind Symphony). Additionally, I am a part of various extracurricular activities at my school such as National French Honor Society, Math Honor Society, and National Honor Society (NHS). In fact, I am the scholarship committee chair for NHS for the 2022-2023 school year meaning I will be organizing the peer tutoring for my high school. Lastly, I am to be the senior drum major for the Marching Dolphins this next school year meaning that I will be conducting for our eighty person band.

Thanks for checking out my website!
Karstan Bock

P.S. If you want to check out my sources, go to the about page on my blog which can be accessed here.