Engineer of the year crazy about math
Antrim: Ben Pratt heads up MATHCOUNTS program for middle schoolers in the region
Ben Pratt of Antrim is the state coordinator for the Mathcounts program in New Hampshire and encourages all middle schools to participate. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
After receiving the annual N.H. Joint Engineering Societies’ Engineer of the Year award, Antrim resident Ben Pratt spoke with the Ledger-Transcript about the importance of math education at a young age.
The engineering societies recognized Pratt in February and, according to Pratt, the main reason for this recognition may be related to his work with the MATHCOUNTS program. This nationwide program geared toward middle school students is meant to stimulate interest and proficiency in math. “Math is the basis of almost everything we do,” Pratt said in an interview Monday.
The National Society for Professional Engineering was one of the organizations that founded the program. Pratt first heard about MATHCOUNTS at a meeting of the Joint Engineering Societies. In 1983, Pratt decided to attend his first meeting, and Robert Evans, the first state coordinator for MATHCOUNTS and a member of the National Society, asked those at the meeting for volunteers. Pratt volunteered, and the rest is history.
Currently, Pratt works as the state coordinator overseeing all six regions in New Hampshire. Prior to becoming the state coordinator, Pratt spent 20 years as the coordinator for the Keene region, which includes numerous towns in the Monadnock region. At present, Pratt has spent 31 years with MATHCOUNTS since it was founded in 1983. “It keeps me busy,” he said.
As a country, Pratt said students could be better educated in math. “We think the U.S. is best at everything, and we’re not,” he said.
Nationally, colleges are being encouraged to integrate more STEM education into class curriculum, Pratt said. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. Programs like MATHCOUNTS could help prepare students for STEM learning, Pratt said.
“What colleges are finding is that it’s hard to find students who are properly grounded in math,” Pratt said. Without this grounded education in math, college professors spend too much time going over math lessons that should already have been learned, he said, “instead of teaching students what they came there to learn.”
State competitors get a chance to experience a slice of college life when they compete at one of three New Hampshire colleges, Pratt said. MATHCOUNTS has worked with Plymouth State University, University of New Hampshire and Keene State College in the past for locations for the state competitions. Competitors eat at the campus’s dining hall and compete on school grounds, getting a taste of what college is like, Pratt said.
MATHCOUNTS teams compete regionally, then state meets are held, and finally there is a national competition. The overall top 10 highest scorers from the national competition get to go to the White House and meet the president. Pratt said every year the students present the president with a Texas Instruments calculator to balance the budget.
Every middle school in New Hampshire will receive a MATHCOUNTS packet in September and it is up to the school’s staff to register a team with the program. The problem, Pratt said, is that many teachers feel nervous to take on the responsibility of coaching a team because they don’t feel qualified. But Pratt said that the program helps students and teachers become better at math. “I think it improves the capability of teachers,” Pratt said.
Schools usually stop doing the MATHCOUNTS program once the teacher leading the school’s team retires or leaves, Pratt said. Great Brook Middle School had a team for two or three years a while back, but the school doesn’t register anymore since the teacher leading the program left, he said. South Meadow School also participated in the program for a number of years, but did not have their students compete. The Well School in Peterborough continues to have a team, Pratt said. “Some of their teams have done well.”
Pratt is always intent on getting new schools to sign up. “I wish we could get more to do it, we tend to get the same schools,” Pratt said.
Pratt understands that the teachers who do commit to this volunteer program have a lot of work to do outside of school. And as far as what those teachers do? “It’s just awe-inspiring.”