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Draper Journal

MATHCOUNTS offers middle school students challenge

Feb 01, 2018 10:20AM ● By Julie Slama

Canyon School District honored its top 14 middle school students in the recent MATHCOUNTS competition. (Rachel Marshall/Canyons School District)

After two rounds of complete silence, 132 Canyons School District middle school students were able to work together to solve 10 problems in the team round of MATHCOUNTS.

“Math makes sense and it’s fun,” said Mt. Jordan eighth-grader Shaylee Neilsen, who is competing on her school’s MATHCOUNTS team for the first time. 

At the district competition, students had four rounds: a 30-question sprint round, a target round with four sets of two problems, a team competition where students work together on 10 questions, and then an oral countdown round.

MATHCOUNTS is offered after school at the eight middle schools and promotes middle school mathematics achievement in every U.S. state and territory.

Since 1985, students in the district have competed in MATHCOUNTS, said Bob McGee, Midvale Middle School teacher and coach of 39 club members.  

Up until last year, Midvale Middle has dominated the competition, winning 15 years straight until Waterford claimed the title last year.  

Last year at the chapter competition, Midvale scored 57 of the 66 points possible. 

“Our kids are practicing doing more questions and being exposed to more math questions from algebra to geometry to probability. These are tough questions they’re solving,” McGee said last year.

This year, with a new chapter of private and charter schools formed, there were only seven Canyons schools competing at the district level on Jan. 3. Union Middle did not participate.

The top 14 students, plus their teams, will compete next at the chapter contest in February, followed by state and even nationals.

“The students get involved because they like doing math,” said McGee, who has accompanied the state team to nationals several times. “Some of these students who compete at the national level go to MIT and other high-end schools. They are able to problem-solve and are self-motivated to learn.”

Midvale eighth-grader Zoe Liu said she studied on her own in addition to the club meetings once per week.

“It’s like anything else you do — you have to practice,” she said. “The more you practice, the faster and more accurate you are. This gets harder every year; it’s become more competitive.”

Zoe, who finished second in the overall competition, said she joined MATHCOUNTS to learn.

“It’s a fun way to learn about math. It’s unique, creative and applies to the real world,” she said.

Many schools, including the 11-member Indian Hills team, use MATHCOUNTS-prepared booklets to help students get ready for the competition, said math teacher and coach Allyson Derocher.

“It’s for fun, for kids who enjoy solving math problems,” she said. “Our aim is to have fun and have our team compete at the chapter contest.”

Butler Middle School coach Amy Giles supported Derocher, adding that her seven-member team consists of students who participate for “the love of math.”

Eastmont coach Stephanie Schott said it also helps students learn to “problem-solve with friends. It’s taking what they learn, building upon it and applying it. They’re often solving problems a couple years beyond what they’re learning in the classroom.”

Mt. Jordan Coach Michelle O’Reilly said the problems are purposely scaled above their difficulty.

“It’s an enrichment above the ninth-grade problem set,” she said.

Schott said that through competition, they’re learning how to collaborate with their team as well as attempt problems in multiple ways.

At Albion, MATHCOUNTS coach and teacher Emalee Elkins said that often, her 17-member team works together to come up with the solution.

“There’s some challenging questions; it’s hard stuff,” Elkins said. “We look at Pascal’s triangle and Fibonacci’s sequence just for fun. We’re trying to get students more college-ready, so while they’re having fun and collaborating with each other, they’re learning.”

District instructional specialist Rachel Marshall said that because some accelerated students choose to remain in their neighborhood schools rather than attend Midvale Middle, which houses the Salta program, the past three years, they have encouraged all schools to offer the math enrichment MATHCOUNTS program.

“We have advanced math students spread out throughout our district, so this provides students an enriching and dynamic way for them to be challenged,” she said.

While all students competing received finalist medals, only the top 14 competed in the oral countdown round. The top three students received trophies and the top four students from each school form a team that can compete at chapter competition.

This year’s top 14 students who placed in order after the countdown round were Eric Chen, Midvale; Zoe Liu, Midvale; Thomas Lu, Midvale; Marianne Liu, Midvale; Lucas Pearce, Eastmont; Will Pearce, Eastmont; Michael Watts, Indian Hills; Andrew Liew, Midvale; Hyun Chun, Midvale; Luke Holt, Butler; Ryam Pomeroy, Indian Hills; Ashley Nielsen, Draper Park; Matthew Telling, Albion; and Asiah Collinson, Mt. Jordan.