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Suggested resources for math team coaches and students preparing for the Alabama Statewide Mathematics Contest

Jeff Dodd, Jacksonville State University, 7/29/03

I. AN ONLINE COMMUNITY OF PROBLEM SOLVING ENTHUSIASTS Everyone who is interested in the problem solving aspect of mathematics should visit the Art of Problem Solving online community at This community is designed to bring experts and novices together and is a wonderful resource for coaches and students alike. Membership in the community is free, and includes access to an online forum and interactive “Math Jams”. Online classes are offered for modest fees. II. MATHEMATICAL BACKGROUND AND PROBLEM SOLVING STRATEGIES • Books on problem solving. There are many wonderful books on this subject, but almost all of them are pitched at a much higher level than is needed for our contest. The one major exception of which I am aware is the following two-volume book:

The Art of Problem Solving by Sandor Lehoczky and Richard Rusczyk Greater Testing Concepts
This is a systematic program of study and training for math teams, written in a friendly conversational style and appropriate for both classroom use and individual study. It starts at the very beginning and builds from there. The first volume is quite elementary and is appropriate for grades 7 - 10. The second volume introduces and develops more advanced ideas and techniques in a way that should be accessible to any motivated student having the basic background developed in the first volume. Hundreds of practice problems are included, and separate volumes are available with complete solutions to all these problems. (Both of the book’s authors, by the way, are alumni of the Alabama Statewide Mathematics Contest!) You can find out more about the book and print out an order form at ∗ My best advice for a math team coach or student who does not know how to get started with problem solving is to get this book and work through it! ∗ • Textbooks. Many modern high school text books try so hard to be gentle with the student that they end up being superficial and diffuse. They certainly tend to shy away from the kind of sharp, mathematically interesting questions that make good contest problems. Sources of mathematical exposition that are more useful than the typical modern American high school math text include: 1

Our contest is designed to serve ALL schools and ALL interested students in Alabama. but complete solutions are not provided. predating 1980 are more likely than modern texts to contain straightforward exposition of the main theorems. and geometry textbooks. and can be viewed and downloaded with the free Adobe Acrobat reader. We are currently thinking about how to provide solutions for at least some of the contest problems in the future. The annual Mu Alpha Theta convention features a number of tests with very nice problems. so it includes problems ranging from trivial to near (but not quite) olympiad caliber. Others require more thorough knowledge and greater facility with the material that can only be developed with substantial practice.htm 2. Old written test and ciphering problems are archived at the contest web site: http://mcis. Many of our problems are based on “Theta”: students who have not taken courses beyond second year algebra may enter (where geometry is not considered beyond second year algebra). There are many other regional high school contests which use problems at levels comparable to ours. SOURCES OF PROBLEMS FOR PRACTICE • Problems from the Alabama Statewide Mathematics Contest. The tests are described in detail here: http://www.) III. Theory of Equations books. There are answers for all the (Other countries tend to be less shy about including straightforward exposition and interesting problems in their textbooks!) 2.mualphatheta. I am always on the lookout for books such as these at used book stores. Many of these contests post their problems with answers. “Alpha”: any student who has not taken calculus may enter. (When an older colleague retires and cleans out his or her book collection. and “Euclidean”: students who have not completed a course above geometry or first-year algebra may enter. Geometry books. and so on.mualphatheta. routine questions which can be found in any high school algebra. jump at the chance to snag some of these older books. See for example the Japanese texts published by the American Mathematical Society: http://www. trigonometry. Algebra books. used book sales. nice problems and nice techniques (buried amongst all the routine stuff).html They are in pdf format. Old textbooks.htm 2 . no knowledge is required beyond what would be included in a robust implementation of the Alabama Course of Study in mathematics. These are broken up by level – “Mu”: any student who has taken calculus must enter the Mu etc.1. 1. • Problems from other contests.ams. and in many cases with solutions too! A list of some of the more prominent regional contests can be found on the Mu Alpha Theta web site: http://www. Textbooks from other countries.

.maa. Each contest is in the form of a series of six short written tests given at regular intervals during the academic year. can be found here: http://www. AMC 10.unl.Tests from the past several years. including complete solutions. All tests include straightforward problems as well as more challenging problems. linked here: The AMC 8. See the web site: http://www. This competition includes many problems on similar topics and similar levels to those used in the Alabama Statewide Contest (though of course the subject matter is not as extensive). and so are appropriate for beginning problem solvers. this magazine publishes a calendar of daily problems that provides a nice set of 28 . Of course more contests and lists of contests can be found various places. Every month.) There are some practice questions on the above web site. so these tests could be integrated into a systematic program of study and preparation for a math team. a series of national competitions that is fully explained here: The first four volumes are only $10 each.mathcounts. “The Contest Problem Book VI” which chronicle these competitions from 1950 to 1994.mualphatheta. Past tests with solutions are available in book form (and some sample tests with solutions are available online). The Math League produces very nice contests for grades 4 . and AMC 12 competitions are intended for a broad spectrum of students and the problems from these competitions are appropriate for students preparing for our contest. You can find hundreds of sample problems at the web site: http://www.31 problems with complete 6.. (The other competitions in the series are invitational and intended for especially talented students.nctm. All high school mathematics teachers should maintain membership in NCTM and should receive this publication! Information about NCTM can be found at its web site: http://www. The Mathematical Association of America (MAA) sponsors the American Math Competitions (AMC). “The Contest Problem Book II”.) • Calendars from Mathematics Teacher. a real bargain! 5. The premier national competition for 7th and 8th graders is 3. Back issues of Mathematics Teacher can be found in any decent university library.12 that are administered by 3 . (The trick is to sort out the ones that use the right material at the right level.mathleague. but the best way to get a good look at problems and solutions is in the form of the following very popular books: “The Contest Problem Book I”. the NCTM’s magazine for high school teachers. These are available at the MAA bookstore. even with Google searches on appropriate key words.

com/doverpublications/index. centered around much more difficult problems and/or much more sophisticated mathematics than are our 4 . a wonderful source of high quality inexpensive books (many under $10. i. are not particularly related to standard techniques and theorems from high school V. but only a small fraction of them will prove useful in preparing for our contest. Posamentier and Charles T. it is easier to sort out Dover titles with a paper copy of the Dover Mathematics and Science Catalog. Flener National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) which can be ordered from the NCTM online bookstore: http://www. and of information on problem solving. I have only outlined those of which I am aware that I think would be best for teachers and coaches preparing for regional competitions such as our Alabama Statewide Mathematics Contest. FOR MORE INFORMATION There are many other fine sources of problems. Salkind. These are available from Dover Books..nctm.00) that is now online at http://store.mualphatheta. Problem books abound. etc.) Two venerable old problem books that contain something for everyone are “Challenging Problems in Algebra” and “Challenging Problems in Geometry”. So it can be hard to tell if a problem book will be helpful without actually examining a copy.) is the following: “Mathematics Contests: A Guide for Involving Students and Schools” by Frederick O.nctm. though they may require considerable cleverness to solve. both by Alfred S.• Problem collections in book • The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics http://www. which can be ordered for free on the web site. Probably the best way to find such information is to ask around. as our problems most certainly are.html (But for me. But you can also work through the following organizations: • Mu Alpha Theta http://www. GENERAL ADVICE FOR MATH TEAM COACHES An entire book devoted to the topic of mathematics contests in general (the different types of contests. In this brief guide. Many of these books are just too “hard”. coaching tips. And many others are devoted mostly or entirely to recreational puzzles that.

org/ 5 .• The Mathematical Association of America A compendious source of information on curriculum resources and professional development materials in mathematics and science is the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse: http://www.enc.maa. A wonderfully well organized portal to mathematics on the internet is The Math Forum: The internet is a giant source of information but it can be hard to sort it all out.mathforum.