Youth’s passion for math brings success
Past participants of the e M & M Jamaica Math competition .
Scores of students trickle into the room where the M & M Jamaica Math competition is being held in St Elizabeth. They face their opponents, decked in the kaleidoscope of uniforms from high schools in the parish; some as young as 12 years, the oldest no more than 17 years.
The energy is palpable.
These are math geniuses among their peers and each characteristically begins to calculate the probability of winning.
Though only a few will boast of being declared winners in their categories, the creators of the competition are hopeful that a greater goal will be achieved – that of changing lives and creating lifetime math ambassadors.
These success stories are the real aim of the competition which was engineered by a son of the parish and director of M&M Jamaica, Don Mullings.
Four such stories belong to past participants Coswayne Samms and Dowega Hylton, formerly of Black River High school, Natasha Dyer of St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) and Lateisha Daley of Lacovia High school.
“I first heard about the M&M Math competition from a teacher at Black River High, Ramsamugh. He heard I was good at Math and came looking for me in the first form. That was in 2003. I participated for three more years in grades eight, nine and eleven,” recalled Samms who placed in the top three all four years of the competition.
Similarly, Dowega Hylton too was discovered by instructor Ramsamugh in grade eleven.
“He encouraged me to participate. I loved Math but he was so confident in my abilities that it ignited an increased confidence in me”, said Hylton, happily recalling her second place in the grade category and third place, overall.
Daley got her calling for problem-solving in grade 10 when her teacher J. Black noticed her passion for numbers and encouraged her to enter the competition in order to gain exposure. She would go on to re-enter in grade eleven where she copped the second place trophy.
Dyer noted the choice to enter the competition was made for her owing to her affinity for the subject.
“A math teacher at STETHS recruited me in grade eight as I was the top-performing math student at that grade level, so the decision was made for me. I didn’t oppose to being in the competition because I was highly confident in my abilities to perform well,” she said. Dyer went on to represent her school for a total of four years, placing in the top three consecutively.
All four attest to the colossal impact the competition and focus on mathematics had on their secondary studies.
“Mathematics promotes and develops problem-solving and critical thinking skills. The confidence from knowing that I was good at the presumed ‘hardest’ subject, made me even more confident in attempting all other subjects,” said.
“Math allowed me to develop critical thinking and analytical skills which were useful in all facets of my studies.
Having exceled in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations, Samms, Hylton, Dyer and Daley all went on to pursue post-secondary studies in math-related courses. Samms to accounting but would later switch to marketing; Hylton to actuarial science, Dyer to chemistry and Daley to math education.
Today, Daley carries her passion to grades ten and eleven students of her alma mater, ensuring that she creates a space in which mathematics is not seen as a force to be feared but rather a model to be mastered.
“I became a math teacher because I saw how many students struggled with the subject and I knew it was my purpose to help them overcome the fear and build confidence in their critical-thinking capacity. mathematics cannot be taught as simply a subject to be passed. It is a beautiful art that links to every other subject and real-life problems. It is our duty as teachers to let the students come to this understanding,” said.
Hylton, who is now employed at Sagicor Bank said choosing a career in banking was inevitable given her immense love for numbers.
“I see banking as a first step towards familiarizing myself with the fundamental principles and risks that are present in the Financial Services industry. My ultimate goal is to reach a position where I can apply my analytical skills to assist in projecting potential gains or losses and make appropriate recommendations,” she said.
The Sagicor team member of the month, who has racked up a number of notable achievements since her employment, notes that a different approach must be taken toward teaching Math, particularly in secondary schools.
“When students think of mathematics, the second word that comes to mind is ‘problems’. People innately try to avoid problems whether it’s due to fear of being overwhelmed or just a lack of drive and problem-solving skills. Teachers must make the subject more fun and relatable to everyday life,” she cautions.
Dyer, who copped the award for Top CSEC Performer of St Elizabeth Technical High School in 2011 is now pursuing a Masters in Chemistry and says the fear of Math is learnt and can be reversed.
“I believe that like most other fears, the fear of math can be overcome if faced head on. I read once that a child is born with two fears, the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. This means that all other fears are learnt. Anything learnt can be unlearnt. Therefore, there must be strategic efforts to help students “unlearn” this fear and adopt a more open-minded approach to math, Dyer said.
She advised that teachers must first be informed that math is a general fear of students and arm themselves with patience.
"They must understand that students learn differently, and some student may require extra efforts to grasp a concept. Teachers should look out for students who exhibit “math anxiety” and work closely with these students to resolve that as early as detected. Teachers must approach the subject with enthusiasm and confidence and include more real-life applications to the various concepts,” she said.
Samms is currently the Marketing Officer for the Jamaica Automobile Association as well as an entrepreneur, heading McNally Entertainment – an events planning company.
He extols the virtues of having been in the competition, noting his appreciation of time management and giving back to his community.
“The M & M Jamaica Math competition did a lot for me. It helped me to cultivate a habit of managing my time well, having had to prepare for the competition while carrying out my other duties. Most importantly, it has inspired me to give back and I am currently in dialogue with Black River High school to establish an award for the top-performing student in the Math CSEC exam,” he said
For this year, top-performing students in mathematics from 12 secondary schools in the parish were recognised for their efforts by M & M Jamaica, each receiving book vouchers to assist with textbook allocation for the 2019/2020 school year.
The schools are Maggotty High, St Elizabeth Technical High, Black River High, Lewisville High, Munro College, Hampton High, B.B. Coke High, Roger Clarke High, Sydney Pagon Stem Academy, Newell High, Lacovia High and Aberdeen High.