Middle School Math Super Bowl

Kevin Vogel and I managed Math Super Bowl for 4-6th grade for six years. We taught advanced math and engineering principals after school.

Math Super Bowl has 3 testing categories:

  1. Individual test
  2. Group test
  3. Team build challenge

Given that Kevin and I are engineers, we created some of the most enjoyable in class and take home engineering projects for the students. This helped them understand science in practice, such as load bearing weight, forces in action, counter balancing, structural integrity, etc.

The competition at the Math Super Bowl was very competitive, some schools dedicating their entire school year and class time preparing for this single event. Each year our students took first place in the build challenges except a few where they took second. It was some of the most exciting competitions to watch.

Only four individuals and one alternate would go to the Math Super Bowl so picking the four candidates wasn't easy. Kevin devised an ingenious method that took favoritism out of the equation. Use weighted tests. We generally gave three Math Super Bowl practice tests changing them slightly each time. Whoever scored the highest at the end would be the candidates.

Practice Work

Lots and lots of repetition is the key to muscle (brain) memory in math. We used previous year's super bowl tests to draw math concepts from. Below are practice worksheets that cover 4-6th grade concepts.

Practice Tests and Grading

We used previous year's tests and modified them to ease re-using them. This also helped simulate timed test situations. We used this as a basis for determining Math Super Bowl contestants. The students would take three tests leading up to the super bowl. Using a weighted grading system made it easy to determine who was the best four to candidates. It was easy to grade then plug the numbers into the Weighted Test Score Worksheet.

Build Project Ideas

Build projects are a way to exercise math and science in the real world. This was the funnest part of math training as it developed team work as well as creative thinking. Below are some of the build projects we did.

  • Cantilever - who can make the longest one with only 15 or so toothpicks and 1" cube of clay. (in class project - actual super bowl challenge)
  • Elevated yogurt cup filled with metal washers. Given 3 or so straws, 4 peal-and-stick name tags, and a yogurt cup you had to elevate cup at least 6" from table and be able to hold metal washers. The cup with the most washers won. (in class project - actual super bowl challenge)
  • Bridge of paper. Given 10 of so sheets of newspaper and a little tap, who can build the longest bridge that will hold a small bottle of water. (in class project)
  • Tower of cards. Given a deck of playing cards (52) build a tower as high as possible. (in class project)
  • Space capsule and cargo. Given an egg, build a contraption that will protect the egg from a 12 foot launch drop. Idea taken from space work. (take home project)
  • Buoyancy and load bearing. Build a contraption that will float on water while weight is added to the top ensuring the device does not topple over. The largest weight bearing device won. (take home project)
  • Tower of straws. Given a foot of string, 6" of tap, 10 straws, and a 1" cube of clay, build a tower as high as possible that can hold the clay at the top. (in class project)

Competition Memories

Kevin and I were blessed with some of the most enjoyable times. We watched our kids compete with their friends, win, and celebrate afterward. It was like a mini road trip, challenging workout, and of course In-And-Out lunch afterward. Imagine a room filled roughly 60 tables covered with kids from schools all over.

Each year the coordinator would pass out a brown lunch sack bag with the build challenge materials. No one knew ahead of time what the challenge would be, it was a complete mystery. It was up to the kids creativity to outwit the competition and in this one area "borrowing" ideas is acceptable. We train the students to take a moment and watch other people build as this is the best way build on other ideas.


This was probably the most enjoyable to watch; it was our 4th grade class with our sons. After they passed out the bags, the kids dumped out the build supplies. They have about 30 minutes to complete this challenge. For 10 minutes the room was dead silent, you couldn't even hear a pin drop. No one was building, why? Eventually the coordinator asked everyone to stop and posed the question:

Does anyone know what a cantilever is?

Everyone started to giggling because no one knew what it was! Once she explained the concept everyone knew what to do. They had to build the longest cantilever using a few tooth picks and a little some clay. This was the hardest challenge we had seen in the 6 years of coaching.

The best part is that our 4th grade team got 1st place. Not only that, if they would have combined 4-6th grade together, they still would have gotten 3rd place overall! It was a huge confidence booster for the 4th graders to be out building 5th and 6th graders.

The build materials after it was torn apart

First place pose

Washer Weight

This was another very exciting year which included our two daughters. In this is one of the build you were either surviving our dropping out early. It also needed to be finished within 30 minutes but in this case the judging went for over an hour. The goal in this one was to elevate a yogurt cup about 6-8" from the table using straws, a piece of string, and a little tap. This was a 2 part challenge where if your cup was not high enough you were eliminated. The second part was how many metal washers the cup could hold.

What made this competition unique is that many teams were eliminated early on leaving only a handful left to compete in the 2nd phase. Our team was one of a about 6 tables left out of 60. swarms of kids surrounded the remaining tables only to heighten the excitement. In addition, when a cup gave way, the weight and the tons of washers spilled all over the table and ground echoing through the large pavilion. The anticipation was intense.

That year our team took first place in their grade.

Stacking Cups with Rubber Band

This was a very intriguing build idea. It really focused on ingenuity and team communication. You were given 6-8 Solo cups and 5-6 rubber bands. The goal was to stack the cups as high a possible without touching a single cup with your hands. This was a huge challenge for many as they had to figure out how to use the rubber bands to create "pliers". The ideal setup was to tie the rubber bands in a way that each student would pull a rubber band in opposite directions of each other creating a net force of 0 but a total "pinching" force on the cup. This would allow you to lift the cup vertically and stack it. You would repeat this process and to try and stack all 8 cups.

I believe this year we got second with a total of 6 cups stacked. There were very few teams that actually got all 8 cups stacked up.