More than 600 children will participate in the 10th Annual Math Steeplechase, which is designed to build critical thinking skills and demonstrate that learning math can be fun and exciting.

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Pacific News

Math Steeplechase adds up to excitement for local students

This is the 10th year for this annual event at Pacific in which hundreds of fifth graders from schools as far north as Elk Grove converge at Pacific for an exciting day of math competition.
Apr 17, 2014

More than 600 children from 8 schools in Stockton, Lodi and Elk Grove unified school districts will converge at the Alex G. Spanos Center on Thursday, April 18, for University of the Pacific's annual Math Steeplechase. But they won't be sitting at tables just answering problems. They will be using tools, twine, buttons and other items to solve math problems.

The students are competing in the tenth annual Math Steeplechase, a competition where teams of fifth graders have to solve complex math problems in a matter of minutes. The event will start at 8:30 a.m. Parents are invited to watch the event, but are asked to not distract the children or blurt out answers.

"Many schools want to compete in this contest because it's a fun way to show the practical applications of math," said event organizer Greg Potter, a professor in the Benerd School of Education. "Besides showing their math prowess, for many of these students, this also will be their first visit to a college campus, and we think that also will have a deep impact on the children."

During the Math Steeplechase, students are split into teams of five to six. Each team is then escorted to a table with props on it and a mathematical problem involving those props. They have 10 minutes to solve it as a group. Each group is then scored by a judge at the table. They also rotate between three other locations on campus for chemistry and physics demonstrations and athletic games, as well as participating in a scavenger hunt that will make them familiar with the Pacific campus.

The scavenger hunt is coordinated by students in the Gladys L. Benerd School of Education. Additionally, the athletics department will coordinate games and activities on the soccer field. The Physics Department and Chemistry Department will also be providing an opportunity for students to explore the solar system and chemical interactions at sessions in Janssen Lagorio Gymnasium and Long Theatre.

This event is meant to enhance critical thinking and math skills among elementary school students and to show that learning in math and science can be fun. The Math Steeplechase was established ten years ago by former student Tara Runnels '07, who remembered a similar event when she was in high school and said it helped spark an interest in math for her. Today, Runnels teaches math as an elementary school teacher.

For more information about this year's Math Steeplechase or to register a school for next year, call or e-mail Gregory Potter at 209.946.2672 or