To do well in a math contest, you've got to be quick-witted and have a calculator-like mind, according to 7-year-old John Hodges. But to win it, saying a few prayers won't hurt either, his mother says.
John is a third-grader at Matthew A. Henson Elementary School in West Baltimore. He displayed his nimble mind yesterday at Roland Park Elementary School when he won the citywide mathematics contest.
Is it easy to win an elementary school math contest?
Well, it's no problem if you're up on metric conversions or a have fancy for compound division and multiplication. How many liters are in a kiloliter? John answered that question and clinched the championship.
"I knew it was a thousand [liters] but that's why I studied a lot for this," he explained.
The contestants were given 15 seconds to work out the answers to problems without the benefit of paper or pencils. John displayed his quick mind by answering the questions in four or five seconds.
John was among 12 third-grade students who had won school and district math contests to reach yesterday's finals. The top three students from each of the four school districts made up the finalists.
The students were asked questions yesterday ranging from not-so-simple addition and subtraction problems to ones dealing with the metric system and rounding off four-digit numbers.
Many of the contestants spent weeks studying arithmetic tables and charts.
But for John, who bypassed the second grade through an accelerated curriculum program, the contest required little more than his normal math homework as preparation.
"It was hard and easy," he said. "My mother studied with me some."
At Matthew Henson Elementary, John is one of 22 boys in an all-male third-grade class taught by a male teacher. There is also a fourth-grade class for boys only at the school.
Proponents of the all-male classes say they are beneficial for black boys, who often lack positive male role models. The all-male classes boost the boys' self-esteem and help them catch up academically with girls, who tend to learn faster than pre-adolescent boys.
Lee Moody, who teaches the third-grade, all-male class at Matthew Henson, said boys tend to express themselves better when girls are not present.
"They become a little more aggressive," Mr. Moody said. "Boys tend to be shy when girls are around. In my class, they don't mind making mistakes."
Samuel L. Banks, executive director of the division of instruction for city schools, said the youngster's winning shows the level of instructions given at inner-city schools.
"If they are well-prepared like this young man, they'll do well. He knows his metric system," Dr. Banks said. "This shows that excellence has no color."
So yesterday, while adults in the audience grappled with pens and pads and pocket calculators, students barely tall enough to speak into a low-standing microphone answered math questions in a rapid-fire manner.
"He internalizes a lot," said Stephanie Hodges, John's mother. "It TC looks easy. Before he went on he said, 'I just prayed before I went on stage.' We both prayed about it."