Math competition adds up to fun
WIESBADEN, Germany — It sure didn’t look like fun.
Sitting at a table with paper, pencil and buzzer, all eyes on them, two students went head-to-head with only 45 seconds per round to solve math problems that would give a professional engineer a sweaty brow.
Middle-school students from across Europe wrestled with compounded interest, common fractions, palindromes, convex pentagons, word problems, probability and much more during the Department of Defense Dependents Schools’ MATHCOUNTS state competition Wednesday in Wiesbaden. The top four winners will go to Orlando, Fla., to compete in the national math contest.
Contestants were instructed at times during the final oral round to "express your answer in base 2," "express your answer as an ordered pair" and "express your answer as a percent to the nearest 10th."
Despite the occasional nail biting, looks of deep concentration and the numerous tricky questions that often went unanswered, the students said they had fun.
"It’s all about having fun," said Isabella Pinerua, 13, a seventh-grader and member of Ankara (Turkey) High School’s winning state MATHCOUNTS team. While the winning team does not get to go to Orlando as a team, its members do get a chance to vie for the four individual spots.
"Our motto is fun," echoed Senem Kadioglu, Ankara’s MATHCOUNTS coach. "If we win, it’s the fringe benefit."
Such an endorsement would likely please the MATHCOUNTS founders. The National Society of Professional Engineers, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and CNA Foundation started the mathematics competition in the early 1980s to increase middle-school involvement in math, said Bruce Lawson, who sits on the MATHCOUNTS board of directors and attended the Wiesbaden contest.
Back then, algebra typically wasn’t offered until high school, which was too late for students preparing for a career in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, Lawson said.
"Over the years, MATHCOUNTS has introduced more and more subjects to the middle-school level," he said.
An engineer by trade, Lawson said
.0 most of the questions floated during the competition would be difficult for even him to answer — at least in the contest format.
"Given the time and a textbook, I could go back and answer them," he said, noting the questions deal with "everyday" middle-school math. For example, he said, "I don’t carry around [the formula to calculate] the area of a rhomboid in my head."
The MATHCOUNTS Foundation Web site says the competition’s problems focus on the sixth- through eighth-grade standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
MATHCOUNTS provides study materials, and students advance through school, chapter and state competitions, until the final 228 students are selected from 57 states and territories for the national competition in May.
The DODDS state competition pitted 10 schools, including two from the Pacific; the Pacific schools and individual contestants took written tests a week before and turned in their scores prior to the Europe competition. Teams from Europe sent four students, with those individuals competing as a team and as individual contestants. Students without team representation participated as individuals.
Scores at the Wiesbaden competition were based on two written, timed math tests, with the oral "countdown" round done for fun only.
Lakenheath (England) Middle School eighth-grader Conner Silveria, 13, won both the written and oral contests, an outcome that took him by surprise, since he finished second in his chapter competition.
"Last year I didn’t even get in the top eight," he said. "Maybe it’s because I’m in algebra now."
Joining Conner in Orlando will be runners-up Jonathan Chang of Seoul (South Korea) Middle School, second place; Ryan Boyland of Ramstein (Germany) Middle School, third place; and Asbjorn Jacobsen of Ankara High School, fourth place.
The four also will compete as a team for DODDS under the guidance of Ankara’s Kadioglu, who earned a trip to Orlando for being the coach of Ankara’s winning team.
Asbjorn, a seventh-grader, and his Ankara teammates are already taking algebra at school.
"Math class is too easy," he said.
"We skipped seventh-grade math."
Answers: 1. 11,234, 2. 50; 3. 156; 4. 5/8 cup of milk.
Think you’re smart?
Here are some sample MATHCOUNTS questions. The answers are at the bottom of the story:
Question 1: A set of distinct positive integers has a total of 11 digits, and all the digits are 1s. What is the smallest possible sum of the integers in the set?
Question 2: On an exam, a student answered 15 of the first 20 questions correctly. Of the remaining questions, he answered 1/3 correctly. If the student answered 50% of all questions correctly, how many questions were on the exam?
Question 3: What is the sum of A and B from the geometric sequence shown below?
32, A, 72, B, 162, 243…
Question 4: In preparation for her Mardi Gras party, Margaree is making the King Cake. Her recipe makes 12 servings and calls for 0.5 cup of milk. If there are 10 people attending the party and she wants to make enough so that each person can have 1.5 servings, how many cups of milk will Margaree need? Express your answer as a common fraction.