Role of competition coaches

Thank you for taking upon the responsibility of being a competition coach! Coaches are essential to our competition programs. With you, we will be able to help your students develop their interests and realize their full potential in mathematics. With you, we will be able to provide unforgettable learning experiences to your students, and expose your students to the joy and beauty of mathematics in an enjoyable manner. So we welcome you to join us on an exciting journey, one that your students will never forget!

We realize that many of our coaches have other responsibilities which may include a full time job. Therefore, we understand that coaches may have differing commitments to their responsibility as a Math Stars Competition Series coach. You certainly don’t have to be an expert in math, know everything about Math Stars, or treat coaching like a full time job in order to become a successful coach. We have therefore provided some guidelines and suggested responsibilities for you. You should do whatever that fits within your own schedule.

If you are a Math Stars coach, you should be aware that you have some administrative tasks which are mandatory for you to complete. These include:

  • Selecting the teams (each composed of up to 4 members) and, if any, individual competitors who will represent your school at the appropriate Math Stars Regional competition. Note that if you have more than that suggested maximum of 20 students per school from your school interested in participating, you may complete multiple registrations for your school. However, we do suggest keeping the participation from your school to 20 students for potential spacing issues.
  • Registering your students for the Math Stars Regional competition that applies to your students by the appropriate competition deadline.
  • Finalizing team rosters for your school by submitting the names of the members of your school’s teams, and other relevant information we’ll need to provide the best experiences for your students
  • Informing the Math Stars Regional Organizing Committee for your competition of any substitutions, removals, or changes to your team rosters before the competitions. Failure to do so may result in disqualification.
  • Sorting out travel and accommodation details for your schools’ competitors for the Regional competition, and Provincial & National Championships if your students qualify for those.
  • Providing your students with accurate information about the Math Stars competitions so that they know what to expect during the competition(s).

In addition to sorting out the relevant administrative procedures, you might also want to coach your students to prepare for the Math Stars competitions. The Math Stars competitions follow identical formats and test a specific set of mathematical concepts and skills. Therefore, training your students for our competitions would be of great benefit to your students. You should be able to find a coaching style that works the best for you and your students. We have provided some suggestions below:

  • Schedule and lead a sufficient number of practices for your students.
  • Motivate and encourage your students to learn more mathematical knowledge and develop their math skills outside of class time, throughout the Competition Program year.
  • Model a Math Stars competition at your school, either using our sample contests or using other problems of a similar style. This can more clearly show your students the structure of the competitions.
  • Give assignments and worksheets to your students so that they can do math outside of weekly meetings. Mark their assignments/worksheets and provide feedback to them regarding areas of improvement.
  • Utilize our FREE Individual Accounts System to guide your students through a comprehensive training curriculum available entirely for free on our website to help sharpen their math skills in preparation for the competitions.
  • Host informational sessions for parents and students about the Math Stars Competition Series to encourage them to get involved in our program.
  • Host discussions for your students where they can discuss their solutions to problems you’ve assigned, or just math in general.

You certainly don’t need to be able to solve all of our problems in order to be an effective coach. In fact, we believe that many coaches will learn some math themselves while they are coaching. Chances are, by the end of the Math Stars Competition Program year, both you and your students will have improved in math!

There’s no need for you to spend your own money, or any money for that matter, in order to be an effective coach. On our website, you can find samples & past contests (including solution manuals), which can be effective resources for your students. We also have a comprehensive training curriculum available FOR FREE on our website's Individual Accounts System to help your students develop their math skills and prepare for the competitions. As time passes, we will publish more and more resources which you can access for free on our website. If you do find that you need extra funding to provide more resources for your students, strategies such as asking your school’s Parent Auxiliary Committee (PAC), requesting funds for your Math Stars Competition Series club from your school’s student fees, or other community grants can be very effective.

We suggest coaches to meet with students for 1 hour per week near the start of the Competition Program year, and more often as the competitions loom closer. You can organize practices/coaching sessions before school, during lunch time, or after school, depending on your schedule and the schedule of your students. We know coaches who even train on weekends and during other times (holidays!) for the sake of avoiding conflict with other activities.

It may help for you to design a personalized schedule for your students. Having an effective schedule allows you to teach more mathematical concepts and help students better improve their problem solving skills. This is why we provide a number of free resources for you, so that you can utilize it to your own benefit. Below is a suggested schedule that allows you to start off with easier mathematical material, and gradually build up to more challenging mathematical concepts.

Month Activities
September Host an information session to encourage students from your school to join your school’s Math Stars club. Conduct an initial assessment of everyone’s skills. Begin building fundamental skills (e.g. skills in computations, algebra, and general problem solving techniques)
October Continue building fundamental skills and begin building skills in solving problems quickly and accurately (good training for Power and likely Project Mania rounds)
November Continue building skills in solving problems quickly and accurately and start focusing on more sophisticated mathematical knowledge and more advanced skills (e.g. skills in geometry, number theory, and combinatorics & probability)
December Continue to introduce more sophisticated mathematical knowledge, with an emphasis on mathematical reasoning and problem solving skills (good training for Team Relays and Grit rounds)
January Develop advanced problem solving skills and abstract concepts (e.g. algebraic manipulations, harder number theory, and other advanced concepts that offer shortcuts to solving problems), which is good training for the Project Mania Round; select your school’s competitors and begin administering sample contests
February Develop ability to work as a team (good training for Team Relays, Grit, and Project Mania rounds); Administer sample contests and past contests to simulate real contest conditions; Regional Competition
March National qualifiers should work on speed and developing problem solving intuition; more general practice would be a good idea
April National qualifiers should work on learning more advanced mathematical concepts and shortcuts to problem solving required for national contests
May National Championship

It’s important to note that we actually suggest that you meet more than once a week as the competition dates draw near. However, even when your students are only attending training sessions once per week, that doesn’t mean that they’ll only be developing their problem solving skills on one day per week. Many students benefit from having weekly assignments/handouts as well as doing individual training via the training curriculum on our Individual Accounts System, so provided that you, as a coach, have some extra time to invest, a weekly schedule like the one following may turn out to be very effective:

Monday (Weekly Team Practice)

Tuesday Wednesday
  • Students meet to receive coaching and discuss problems from the previous week’s problem set.
  • Coaches discuss previous week’s problem set.
  • Students receive a worksheet as timed practice and then the coach discusses solutions.
  • Coach emails out a problem set or assigns training material from the online training curriculum to students, due Friday.
  • Students continue to work individually on weekly problem set or training material.
Thursday Friday Weekend
  • Students continue to work individually on weekly problem set or training material.
  • Coach emails out a secondary review problem set or training material, due the following Monday as discussion material.
  • Students begin to work individually or in a group on review problem set or training material.
  • Weekly problem set or training material due.
  • Coach reviews solutions to weekly problem set or training material.
  • Students continue working on review problem set or training material.

Of course, the above schedule is quite intensive, so depending the amount of time your students have available, you as the coach should make the final decision on what training schedule you want to adopt.

Assuming that you've read the above tab titled "Possible Training Schedule", you now should have a general idea of what Math Stars coaching looks like, so let’s delve into the specifics of what a training session might look like.

Simply put, there is no “one size fits all” way to coach students. Every coach, school, and group of students are different, so it will take a few sessions before you can figure out what works for your students and what doesn’t work. However, based on what we have seen, effective math coaches generally do the following in their training sessions:

  • Facilitate a cooperative learning environment by having students discuss problems with each other. Some coaches have students work together on a problem set and then have students individually present the solutions to these problems on a board. This also promotes a team spirit and develops students’ cooperative problem solving skills, a skill critical for the Team Relays, Grit, and Project Mania rounds.
  • Teach and encourage students to solve problems using a variety of approaches to promote exploratory and creative thinking while developing problem solving skills.
  • Ask students to present solutions in front of their peers to develop their mathematical reasoning and self-confidence.
  • Ask students to write problems for each other to solve.
  • Develop assessment tools to measure the performance of the students and pinpoint areas that need further development, as well as to simulate real competition scenarios.
  • Encourage mathematical reflection of the problems. That is, to encourage students to think about the strategies they utilized to solve these problems and help them generalize techniques to other situations.
  • Write problem sets to help students work on areas that they are weak on, or just need more practice. This is generally done ahead of time. This is done ahead of time.
  • Prepare (done ahead of time) and deliver lectures to convey mathematical content (concepts, facts, formulas, proofs...etc.) to students so that they become equipped with more knowledge in mathematics.
  • Discuss more effective problem solving strategies than those presented by the students. As an organization, we believe that the process and reasoning behind the solution is more important than the final answer itself. We therefore encourage coaches to adopt an inquiry-based approach to teaching, which involves students developing problem solving skills through self-discovery. The role of the teacher is to guide the students’ thinking process and not to give the students the final answers.

We have included a possible agenda that you can follow in the hour that you spend with your students every week in the following tab titled "Math Stars Coaching Session Sample Agenda: 1 hour". This is only a suggestion and depending on your student group, you will probably find another agenda that works better for you and your students. There are many ways to coach mathematics effectively, so we encourage you to vary the structure of your sessions as the Math Stars Program Year goes on. Students tend to like something different every few weeks!

Problem discussion of previous week’s problem set or training material (30 minutes)

  • Have a couple of students write up a couple of their solutions on the board. You might want to pick problems which demonstrate the power of a specific technique rather than one that requires tedious calculations or is simply way too difficult for most students to figure out. The students can present partial solutions: regardless of how much progression they’ve made on the problems, they should be encouraged to come up and talk about their solutions.
  • Lead a discussion about the problem solving strategies involved in the problem. Help the students if they presented any incorrect answers/techniques. It’s especially important to discuss other techniques to solving these problems. You may also discuss shortcuts to solving these problems, but if there isn’t enough time, you may skip this.
  • Students can then ask for some guidance regarding the process to solving some of the harder problems. You can split the students up into groups of 4 to encourage teamwork. This allows stronger students, who may have already solved the harder problems, to present their solutions to the group.
  • Present some theoretical material such as concepts, abstract problem solving strategies, and mathematical theory/proofs. Make sure to review fundamental skills prior to moving into more advanced skills. Many students can get lost if their basics aren’t firmly down, so don’t worry if it takes some time before your students get the harder concepts and ideas.

Timed worksheet (15 minutes)

  • Hand out a worksheet with some easy problems and some hard problems on it and ask your students to solve as many of the problems on there as possible in 12 minutes.
  • It’s important to make this worksheet so that it contains a balance of difficulty levels. Students can get discouraged if they keep getting poor scores on their worksheets. Make sure most of the problems on your worksheets can be attempted by your students with the 12 minutes. We suggest including anywhere from 3-10 problems on this problem set.
  • Tell your students to use calculators sparingly. It’s important for Math Stars competitors to develop shortcuts in mental math along the way, as it’s an important tool in applied mathematics and it can significantly improve your students scores on the Power Round as well as the other rounds. Calculator usage should only be encouraged for problems which simply cannot be solved without a calculator (for example, if a tedious calculator simply cannot be avoided).
  • After 12 minutes, tell students to stop working and put down their pencils.

Discuss solutions to timed worksheet (15 minutes)

There are a couple of ways to faciliate this solution discussion process. We offer below a collaborative method as well as an individual, but more targeted method.

Collaborative method

  • Divide students up into teams of 2 to 3. Then assign each group a problem or two to discuss. Do this randomly.
  • Each group has a couple of minutes to reach a consensus on what answer they wish to report to the rest of the class for their problems. If they’ve been assigned a problem or problems which they couldn’t solve, have them discuss what approaches they took and encourage them to make a bit more progress on their problem before they present their work.
  • Randomly pick one group to begin presenting their answers. Figure out an awards system for correctly solving the problems. For example if you have 10 problems per worksheet, give 2-3 points for every correct answer to problems 1-3, 3-4 points for every correct answer to problems 4-7, and 4-5 points for every correct answer to problems 8-10. Give the students a time limit to present their solution/answer (maybe 45 seconds?). Do not awards points for an incorrect solution or a solution that took too long to present. The collaborative method usually takes longer than the individual method (see below), so do allow more time in the session if this approach is used.
  • Choose the next group to present their answers/solutions at random.
  • Have every student mark their own worksheet. Tally up the points at the end.
  • It’s absolutely essential that as a coach, you go over some of the harder problems at the end which few students got correct. If time permits, briefly present relevant mathematical theory, discuss different problem solving strategies and techniques used to solve the problem, and even better, connect it back to a concept that the students were recently exposed to.

Individual, more targeted method

  • Randomly choose a student to present his/her answer/solution to the first problem on the worksheet. Allow for no more than 1 minute for this presentation and indicate at the end whether the solution was correct or not. Have students award themselves points like in the previous section on the collaborative method.
  • Follow the same procedure as in the previous bullet point for all the other problems. Note down which problems are causing students the most difficulty.
  • If time permits, have the students presenting also briefly talk about the problem solving strategies and techniques they used to solve the problem, so that cooperative learning can take place.
  • At the end of this process, go over some of the harder problems which few students got correct. If time permits, briefly present relevant mathematical theory, discuss different problem solving strategies and techniques used to solve the problem, and even better, connect it back to a concept that the students were recently exposed to.

Even the best coaches can’t shine without having students there to turn their talent in coaching into results at the competitions. Since we want to reach out to as many middle schools as possible in Canada with the Math Stars Competition Series, we will need your help in getting as many participants from your school to join our competition program. We have some tips for what you might want to do to get students involved at your school:

  • Send out emails to parents, other teachers, principals, and your school district’s math/science education coordinators/facilitators and ask them to help recruit more students.
  • Reach out to parents through parent teacher interviews, school newsletters, Back-to-School presentations, or other info sessions available to parents.
  • Directly talk to students at your school and ask your colleagues to talk to their students as well. Pinpoint those who have shown their skills in mathematics (this is probably after working with them for a few weeks) and talk to these students in private to encourage them to join a Math Stars club at your school.
  • Posing cool and fun math problems to your students which are relevant to your school and/or community, and encourage students to come to the first Math Stars club meeting to find their answers.
  • Distribute Math Stars event pamphlets around your school—hang them up on the school bulletin or display case.
  • Invite members of other extracurricular (academic) clubs—math, science, engineering, robotics, STEM—to the Math Stars club.
  • Make a short presentation at the school prep rally or opening assembly.
  • Make announcements over the school PA system. Hang up posters around the school. Make a presentation about the Math Stars club at Clubs Day/Clubs Fair.
  • If you want, you can go to your school’s feeder school(s) and recruit younger students from there as well. We have no limitations how young Math Stars competitors can be, as long as they aren't too old (see our eligibility rules for more details).

If you are a veteran coach (i.e. you have sent team(s) from your school to Math Stars competitions before), you can also do the following:

  • Ask Math Stars competitors who have participated in previous competitions to advertise to their peer group as well as younger groups of students—these competitors can talk about their rewarding experiences and the benefits of Math Stars.
  • Display proof of your school’s achievements (such as trophies, plaques, medals, and/or certificates) earned at previous Math Stars competitions.
  • Make a short blurb about your school’s Math Stars club, or if you have already selected your team(s), your school’s Math Stars team(s) on your school website, bulletin, and/or newsletter. Other students will see that their classmates are getting recognized for putting in effort to learn math outside of class time and therefore will be more motivated to join the club.

Regardless of how you intend on running the Math Stars program at your school, we thank you greatly for taking upon this role. If you have any other questions about the Math Stars Competition Series, please do not hesitate to contact our Program Director, Waley Zhang, at waley.zhang@cssma.ca.

Students & Parents

No coach is successful without students who actively participate in their training sessions and parents who are involved in their child(ren)'s learning. For this reason, we have created some motivational material that we believe students and parents should read, at least in part or be read to by their school coach, in order to motivate them to get involved in the Math Stars Competition Series. The Math Stars Competition Series is no ordinary program. Being run mainly by high school and university students, the organizers have an innate desire to make the competitions fun and interactive. The goal of Math Stars is more so to encourage students to develop an interest or a new perspective for the subject rather than hardcore training them to become future mathematicians. Open the following tabs to read our motivational materials!

Hello future Math Stars competitors!

Congratulations for demonstrating your enthusiasm in math!!! 🙂 In the 21st century, we cannot deny that there is a huge fear of math in society. In particular, many students in middle school, just like you, are developing this idea that math is boring and useless. But you know what? Being good at math is something to be proud of, and the Math Stars Competition Series is the perfect way for you to improve your skills in math while enjoying the subject. You might ask, why compete in Math Stars? Well, here’s why:

  • Math Stars is really fun. Legit. Just look at what other competitors like you had to say about Math Stars!
  • Math Stars brings together many talented students like you. These students can become your best friends in the future!
  • Math Stars is really intense. The Project Mania Round is often a game or even better, like a a video game.
  • You get free stuff by being in Math Stars: prizes & food.
  • You get to brag about your accomplishments in Math Stars as we recognize top competitors nationally.
  • You get smarter by being in Math Stars.
  • Your resume looks better if you have done well in Math Stars. That is, if you care.
  • Okay, seriously, who doesn’t like being cool? Math Stars is cool, and you should join!

Okay, you might now wonder what you need to do by being part of Math Stars. Well, here’s what you do:

  • Attend some weekly workshops led by your teacher. These workshops aren’t like your math class. They show you that math has more pretty pictures than you think and that it’s fun to do math.
  • Participate in competitions hosted locally in your area.
  • HAVE FUN!!!

Not much to do, eh? I mean, seriously, you are just learning some math on your own, discovering how cool math is, and yeah!

We do have some advice for you, to do better in our competitions:

  • Look forward to solving every problem. Feeling grumpy will only hurt your score.
  • Don’t do math all the time: actually take a break from math! Do something else that you love!
  • Talk about the math! Tell your friends about the awesomeness of the math that you learned. You gotta talk about it to like it!
  • Enjoy solving problems as much as you want to win! That’s how you will get better!

Good Luck! We wish you all the best during this school year!

Thank you for supporting your child(ren) in pursuing math outside of school. Whether or not you are a mathematician yourself, there’s a lot that you can do to help your child succeed in this program. You might be wondering why your child should participate in this program, so here are the reasons why:

  • Math Stars isn’t a typical program. It’s a unique and fun math competition because many school teams gather in person to compete in a lively, intense competition.
  • The lively atmosphere of Math Stars will encourage your child(ren) to get involved in the math that they are learning. By seeing others who share the same talents as your child(ren), your child(ren) will find it interesting to learn more math. They will see how math is beauty and extremely rewarding. Just look at what other competitors, teachers, and parents like you had to say about Math Stars!
  • It’s an undeniable fact that math is extremely important to society. Math, being the language of the sciences, is something your child will really appreciate spending time in because it opens up many academic and professional opportunities later in life. Problem solving skills and creativity can both be developed through mathematics!
  • Math Stars builds a positive but competitive environment which is very helpful to motivating your child to learn more math.
  • If your child(ren) scores well in our contest, their achievement can be widely recognized by many institutions across Canada as we have extensive networks with many other math organizations across the country. This can really brighten up your child’s future!

You can encourage your child(ren) to become a more prolific mathematician through some simple steps, as follows:

  • Remind your child(ren) to practice math on a weekly basis. Math skills are developed by thinking about and solving math problems. Most likely, your child(ren)’s coach will have given them some problems to work on during the school year.
  • Help your child take pride in their accomplishments! Math is not an easy subject, so solving every problem deserves a pat on the back!
  • Put aside some time to talk to them about what they are learning. Your child(ren) will learn best if they see that you care about what they learn.
  • Encourage your child to challenge themselves with hard problems!

Whether or not your child(ren) will grow up to be a mathematician(s), Math Stars is an opportunity for them to have fun with math, and we thank you for being part of this!