FAIRFIELD, NJ — Winston S. Churchill School fifth graders, Conor, Natalie, Alyza, Sophia and Erin, were the first through fifth place winners, respectively, in a tournament-style math competition called Challenge 24 earlier this week.

The objective of the mathematical card game is to find a way to manipulate four numbers so that the answer is 24. The uniqueness of the game is that everyone knows the answer, but the students must manipulate the four numbers using any combination of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division to reach the number 24. This puts the emphasis on the process, not the answer, according to the teachers.

Churchill fifth graders were divided into five differentiated groups/classrooms proctored by their teachers. Instructions were given, and then the fun began.

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Jennifer Russo-DeSordi, High Enrichment Program (HEP)/STEAM teacher, explained that this challenge was for all fifth graders, not just HEP students. The event required students to problem-solve using their individual mental math skills, quickness, interpersonal skills, verbal skills and more. Russo-DeSordi explained that there were three different levels of the challenge, including a single-digit challenge, double-digit challenge and the hardest challenge of finding the variable.

Russo-DeSordi said she enjoys the fact that this is not a virtual game, but rather requires true communication skills and the ability to get along with others.

“It is a blend of cognitive and communication skills,” she said. “They must work in groups, just as the students will be required to do in their careers. They must be responsible as individuals and as a group. It is an experience that will help them be well-rounded.”

Will, a fifth grader, said the game is “a real challenge.”

His team member, Molly, agreed, saying, “We have been practicing these skills for a long time,” and Sophia said, “It’s hard, but some people are really good at it.”

“Events such as these are great opportunities for kids of all abilities to think differently about math and numeracy in a fun way,” said Churchill Principal Raymond Santana. “This challenge really provides students an opportunity to have fun with math.”

Fifth-grad math teacher Peter Horvath said that his students had a lot of fun and were well behaved throughout the entire challenge. Alyza, third-place winner, agreed with Horvath that the Challenge 24 is a fun way to learn. She said she had a good time participating in the challenge, and that the event as a whole was a lot of fun.

“It is a great way to encourage a higher level of thinking and a way of practicing all four mathematical operations,” said math teacher Dory Nazarian. “It helps in every aspect of math and life skills, including perseverance and problem solving.”

She added that there are many opportunities that allow students to excel in the arts and sports, but that the Challenge 24 gives students the opportunity to show their math ability.

Fellow math teacher Joleen Dickson explained that when the students began playing in January, they found it very challenging and were reluctant to play, but that as time went on, they began to learn and enjoy it.

“The experience is a confidence builder,” said Dickson. “It requires patience, repetition and practice. It also heightens listening skills and sharpens team skills.”

Fifth grader Matt Capra is a big fan of the game and enjoys the competition.

“The game is fun because we get to use all mathematical operations to get 24 at the end,” he said.

His classmate, Marissa, agreed, saying, “I love it. I love math, and it’s a great way for all kids to learn problem solving skills. It’s like a big puzzle that we have to fix.”

The winners received certificates, a snack pass to the lunch room and a special treat.

On a related topic, the Essex County Gifted and Talented Steering Committee hosted its annual Challenge 24 competition on May 31 at Millburn Middle School for fifth through eighth grade students.

The fifth and sixth graders were the junior varsity squad using single, double and variable cards. The seventh and eighth graders used integers and fractions. The Fairfield Churchill School team won fourth place. Russo-DeSordi and Mary Wiley, from Millburn, were co-chairs of the event.

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