Mathematics Triathlon


On your marks, get set, go!


Seventh and eighth graders from Christian schools and home-school groups begin the third and final event of the competition. Classmates jump and cheer as they wait for their turn at the event. Tension builds–time is almost up–which schools will bring home the trophies this year? Can we do it? One minute remains–go faster! Competitors line up for one last chance to contribute. 5-4-3-2-1 TIME’S UP! Put down your pencil and return to your group. Put down your pencil?? Yes, that’s right–the pencil is the baton in the final event of this Triathlon–the Trinity Mathematics Triathlon for middle school students.


The Trinity mathematics department began the competition in 1994 as a service to Christian middle schools to promote interest in mathematics and to bolster the self-esteem of students successful in academic settings, particularly mathematics. In the intervening years, more than 2500 students from more than 50 different Christian schools and home-school associations representing four Midwestern states have solved mathematics problems at the event.


The Triathlon competition for 7th and 8th grade is held on the college campus in late April of each year; the triathlon competition for 3rd through 6th grade is held in area elementary schools in late November.  There is also a second 7th and 8th grade competition every other year in January, typically held in WI and MI. Three major competitive events target individual and collaborative problem solving skills of participants. Competitors begin with a 30 minute individual test consisting of twenty problems of increasing difficulty. The second 30-minute team event is a set of five problems to be solved by a team of three to four students. Following the individual and team events is “half-time.” Competitors have a snack and participate in a large group mathematical activity designed to promote interaction between (pre)teens from difference schools. The half-time event allows the grading team to finish all scoring before the participants leave for the day. The third and final competitive event is a relay-type competition where all participants from each school cycle to solve as many “quick-think” problems as possible in a five-minute period. Once the relay is complete, prizes are awarded to the highest overall scorers in each event and the top individual from each school. Trophies are given to the school with the best three ordinal rankings over the three major events.


Planning for the April and November Triathlon competitions is completed by a team of three full-time and one or two part-time Trinity mathematics faculty together with one or two undergraduate student assistants.  The January Triathlon competition is created by a group of undergraduate students during a two-week period in which the students develop questions individually and come together to create the best test possible.  This process is overseen by two-full time Trinity mathematics faculty.  Although each committee member has individual responsibilities for planning–correspondence, physical logistics, prize procurement, half-time activity design, document preparation–all participate in problem selection. The problems are selected to balance NCTM Standards 2000 content strands (number and operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, data analysis and probability) and process strands (problem solving, reasoning and proof, communication, connections, representation) as well as difficulty. Archives of individual and team competition tests are posted on the


Implementation of the Triathlon depends heavily on undergraduate volunteers. Trinity students participate in registration, administering and grading the exams, escorting groups of competitors around campus, and facilitating “half-time” activities.


Although the logistical details of planning and administering such a competition are grueling, the benefits to the participating faculty, teachers, competitors, and undergraduate students are well worth the effort. The first group of competing participants finished college in 2002; the first individual competition winner graduated (from Trinity) in 2003 and is to pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Other past participants are currently teachers of mathematics and bring a new generation of participants to the Triathlon!


The Trinity Triathlon continues to grow.  Within the past few years, the April event has grown to involve not only schools in the area, but has also included schools in other states via the internet.  Current teachers that have participated in the Triathlon, and then been involved in the creation of the Triathlon have been able to take a day and connect to Trinity via the internet, specifically Skype, and participate in this wonderful event.  We have been able to have schools from Utah, Pennsylvania, and Michigan participate in our April event concurrent with the event held on campus. Information about participation can be obtained by contacting This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .




Web Page Edited by: C. Rozeveld2012