Perhaps you have heard of the annual mathematical competition Math Kangaroo in USA. You probably know that it takes place every year on the third Thursday in March, in several places throughout the US, and that students all from grades 1 to 12 are invited participate. If you or your child has participated, you also know that all who take part receive a T-shirt, diploma and special memento, and the top winners from each level also look forward to special prizes. You most likely support Math Kangaroo’s vision of encouraging students to learn mathematics by presenting them with problems that are interesting and by rewarding their efforts. But perhaps you have at some point wondered: Why is it called “Math Kangaroo”? And where did this whole idea come from?
Its history stretches back several decades. In the 1980’s, Peter O’Halloran, an Australian mathematician and teacher, began a popular mathematical competition in his country. The test was open to anyone who wanted to participate, and included engaging and thought-provoking questions which stemmed from mathematical areas of knowledge including algebra, geometry, and logic.
In 1991, this idea was taken up in Paris, France. The competition began to be called “Kangaroo” because of its Australian origin. Very quickly, it spread throughout Europe, and presently over 6 million students throughout the world take part. In September 2012 a nice article was published in EMS Newsletter by Prof. Gregor Dolinar, the President of Kangourou Sans Frontiéres, where one could read about history, present and future of the competition worldwide.
The vision of promoting greater commitment to the study of mathematics through the use of interesting problems and positive reinforcement also reached the United States. In 1998, Maria Omelanczuk, a trained mathematician and educator, began with a Math Kangaroo competition at the Sobieski School in Chicago. She continued to promote the competition in collaboration with the school until 2003. At that time, yearly participation in the contest increased to the point that Mrs. Omelanczuk, together with Izabela Szpiech and Joanna Lasek, formed a not-for-profit charity organization, Math Kangaroo in USA, NFP, specifically to deal with organizing and promoting the competition in the US. Since 2003, the competition in the US has been handled by this charity organization. The organization also helps students prepare for the competition by making available problems from the previous years. Participation continues to grow. For recent number please see our Results pages.
Math Kangaroo is an international competition. Not only has it spread from country to country, but the various countries in which the competition takes place work together each year on choosing the problems for the contest. It also takes place at the same time throughout the world. However, the results are not compared between various countries, and prizes are awarded by the national organizers of the competition.