BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Carteret Elementary School fifth- and sixth-grade students were puzzling their brains in the school media center last week in preparation for an intramural mathematics competition.
The competition is called “Challenge 24” and is played with cards having four numbers. Students are required to factor the numbers — add, subtract, divide or multiply them in some combination — and come up with a total of 24. According to Jean Barbetta, the media specialist at the school, the competition was originally part of the Gifted and Talented program but now includes all fifth- and sixth-graders.
“It’s practice with numbers,” Barbetta said. “And you can use a number only once.”
All Bloomfield elementary schools will whittle their fifth- and sixth-graders down to four students who will compete in a districtwide tournament at Bloomfield Middle School on March 15. District-level winners move on to a county-level competition in Millburn.
“Your math factor families have to be strong,” Barbetta said, explaining that a ‘factor family’ is what numbers, when added, subtracted, divided or multiplied together, equal 24. “You’re constantly thinking of numbers, how to get to 24.”
The playing cards are colorful, depicting a roulette wheel. They have four levels of factoring difficulty with single- or double-digit numbers represented, fractions or cards called variables which join two roulette wheels. All students start competing with the single-digit cards.
For instance, how would one factor the numbers 6-6-2-5 from a single-digit card and come up with 24? Sixth-grader Gabriela Garcia did this one easily: five minus two is three; three times six is 18; and 18 plus six is 24.
When competing, Barbetta said once a student has the solution, they will respond by first announcing the last factoring combination. In this case, when Gabriela had the solution, she said that 18 plus six equals 24. She then gave all the factoring combinations to reach 24. Saying the last factoring step first, Barbetta said, helps to focus the student and keep them from becoming confused when they have to reiterate the entire process.
Carteret Principal John Baltz said Challenge 24 was a fun way for students to build and sharpen their math skills.
“It gets them away from dependence on calculators and finger counting,” he said in an email, “and is a fun tool for developing an interest in math.”
Coordinating the district tournament will be Lisa Crammer, who is responsible for the Gifted and Talented program at BHS.
Crammer said the Challenge 24 card game involves logic, number sense and quick thinking. At the Bloomfield district tournament, four students play against each other in several rotating rounds, earning points based on the difficulty of each card. The students with the most points at the end of the tournament win.
“Not only must they answer correctly, but they have to be extremely fast,” she said in an email. “Most students solve the card immediately upon seeing it. It really is quite impressive. If no one can find a solution within 30 seconds, we move on to the next card.”
Once the BMS tourney dust settles, Bloomfield will send 10 students to the county competition: five fifth- and sixth-graders, or the Junior Varsity team, and five seventh- and eighth-graders, or the Varsity team.
“Varsity students are part of the Enrichment Club at BMS,” Crammer said. “Last year, we had students in the top three for both levels at the county tournament.”
Parents and spectators will not be allowed to attend the Challenge 24 district tournament at the middle school due to space limitation. It is scheduled to begin at about 8:45 and will end around 11 a.m.
Crammer is also the secretary of the Essex County Gifted and Talented Steering Committee and said the group holds many events for Essex County schools throughout the school year.
ld and we may get some valuable information,” he said. “Everything we start we sustain.”