Waipahu Tourney Making Math Fun

One morning earlier this month, cheers erupted from the Waipahu High School cafeteria, where some of the freshman class was gathered. Teachers and students later reported that they could hear the cheering from all over campus.

The source of the excitement was a surprising one: It was all for the Semi-Annual DimensionU House Cup Championship Tournament – a mathematics competition.


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Freshmen at Waipahu High School cheer on their classmates as they solve math problems in the Semi-Annual DimensionU House Cup Championship Tournament earlier this month. Students went head-to-head in timed video games that tested them in algebraic concepts. Photo from Amelia Cook of Waipahu High School.

“It was so loud that I couldn’t even hear myself talk,” said Waipahu’s school improvement resource teacher and math coach Amelia Cook. “It was like a pep rally. Imagine a pep rally, but just for math.”

Four of the Smaller Learning Communities, groups of up to 120 freshmen who take all of their classes together, competed against one another. Students had to solve problems centered around a variety of math topics, ranging from decimals and percents to multi-step inequalities and other algebraic concepts, through DimensionU, a video game that simulates mathematical obstacles. It consisted of six rounds, with each one focused on a different topic.

“We tried to match the concept of the DimensionU game to what they already are learning in the classroom,” Cook explained. “It was more for reinforcement. We wanted them to … master these concepts.”

Waipahu High’s Smaller Learning Communities are designed as a precursor to the school’s career pathways for juniors and seniors that focus on areas of study such as business, health and information and education technology and natural resources.

In the end, after a three-hour battle, the Invictus house won the tournament.

Waipahu High began incorporating DimensionU games into the classroom four years ago as a way to help students grasp and retain mathematical concepts. Some classes use the gaming system as a way to reinforce the material, while others use the game as an incentive it to complete homework assignments. DimensionU is a grant-funded Department of Defense program that is designed to encourage student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math.

“Math is not a lovable subject for most students, and to have the opportunity to change that is really important to us,” Cook said.

“One good thing about DimensionU is that it would allow students to look at all the questions they have answered through that one game period and see what did (they) get right, what did (they) do wrong, and how can (they) correct it,” Cook said.

The next tournament is tentatively scheduled to take place in March.

Although it’s still a few months away, the students already are getting riled up for more math.

“The kids really want to do this again because they want to beat the house that won,” Cook said. “I have students who are like, ‘When is the next tournament? We have to start training!’ And I am just telling them, ‘Relax, let’s get back to Christmas first.’

“But they are so excited.”