Mulberry fifth graders take fourth in national math contest

Laura McDonald's fifth grade pre-advanced placement math class at Mulberry placed fourth in Sumdog's national holiday math contest.

MUSCATINE, Iowa–Fifth grade teacher Laura McDonald has had her students sharpen their math skills by having them compete in national competitions through the website Sumdog for a long time. Over the years, McDonald has had classes do well in the competitions, sometimes placing in the top 50 in the nation. However, something unexpected happened this December. For the first time ever, McDonald’s pre-advanced placement class placed fourth nationally and one student placed 19th individually. “This is the highest I’ve ever had a class score,” she shared.

To participate in the holiday contest, students in McDonald’s class had to complete 1,000 questions each on Sumdog in the form of games. Though students had some in class time to work towards that goal, they had to do much of it at home. Once the contest closed, Sumdog took the averaged number of correct answers each student got and assigned the class a rank based on that percentage. “For a class to place nationally, they all had to do the work and get a lot of right answers,” observed McDonald.

In a year where students have felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and had to adjust to many changes both in and out of school, McDonald felt very impressed with their ability to overcome and still do outstanding things. “I suppose this year more than any I’m extra proud,” said McDonald. “What pleases me the most is seeing the students do okay–they haven’t let this year get them down.”

As part of the Sumdog competition, the first 200 questions serve as a diagnostic test to give an idea of what grade level each student’s skills match. McDonald reported with pleasure that all of her students placed at grade level, despite the interruption the COVID-19 pandemic had on the 2019-2020 school year. “All my students came back right at the middle of fifth grade, which is right where they should be,” she glowed.

Although COVID-19 mitigation efforts have changed the sort of interactions students can have with each other at school, McDonald feels glad that her students still have built a strong classroom culture and will take it upon themselves to work together to reach big goals. “They’re still coming together as a team,” she stated. Even once the pandemic passes, McDonald looks forward to seeing both the skills and the attitudes her students have developed serve them well for years to come.