Students make it count at MathCounts

Members of the Southeast regional MathCounts winning team from Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School. From left: coach Mary Borthwick, Marina Lloyd, Krishna Bathija, Addy Mallott and Edward Hu. The top two individual performers from Saturday’s contest outside of those four, Floyd Dryden’s Elizabeth Djajalie and Montessori Borealis’s Alex Yu, will make up a six-person team heading to a March state competition in Anchorage. (Kevin Gullufsen | Juneau Empire)

How many integers between 100 and 1000 contain no digits other than 3, 4 or 5?


It’s a deceptively simple question, but try to answer that in less than a minute.

Numerically-inclined middle school students across the state spent a Saturday this February answering questions just like it at the annual MathCounts regional competitions. In four locations around Alaska — in Juneau, Anchorage, Fairbanks and a remote location — students competed to test their math mettle, with one team and two individual performers from each region winning a trip to a state competition in March.

Juneau’s Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School team (featuring Addy Mallott, Krishna Bathija, Edward Hu and Marina Lloyd and coached by Mary Borthwick) took the team prize this year. That team will be bolstered by top individual performers Elizabeth Djajalie, of Floyd Dryden, and Alex Yu, from Montessori Borealis.

Team members took turns going head to head with members of opposing teams in the “Countdown” round Saturday at Juneau-Douglas High School. Three questions were lobbed at each pair of students, with the first to hit a buzzer being allowed to answer the question first.

Djajalie, just a sixth grader, scored the top overall score in the competition. She had to outdo seventh and eighth-grade students to take the prize.

Winning isn’t everything, she said, but it’s “cool” to take home the trophy. Djajalie likes the competition because it forces her to learn things she wouldn’t in the classroom. Though still years away from college, she’s already using MathCounts to help prepare for the SATs.

“It’s so cool because I practice almost every day, especially on the weekends. I have some friends in Anchorage and I can’t wait to tell them I’m coming,” Djajalie said.

Retired middle school algebra and math teacher Mary Borthwick has coached MathCounts teams for many years. This year she took on both DZMS and FDMS teams (FDMS placed third behind Montessori Borealis).

Wearing a purple “Mathematics Empowers Women” shirt, Borthwick paused when asked why she was so passionate about math. It’s partly the certainty of the whole field, she said.

“There are patterns that we can determine and it gives me some satisfaction to be able to predict a few things in my life,” she said.

Usually, MathCounts teams under Borthwick start the first few weeks of the school year. Since she’s retired, team practices don’t start up until around January. That’s made the teams less competitive, but it’s important for students to be well-rounded, she added, something she appreciates with teams from Alaska.

The DZMS team liked being there, Borthwick said, which is important.

“They had a good time. It was fun to just listen to them chatter. They didn’t take it really seriously until it mattered, but they had a good time, and that’s really important,” Borthwick said.

As Borthwick and Djajalie demonstrated, mathematical talent doesn’t come with a Y chromosome. It’s important for girls and young women to see role models, Borthwick said before taking a picture with Djajalie. But a lesser-made point is that it’s also important for boys to see women in mathematics.

As far as the number of digits between 100 and 1,000 containing only the integers 3, 4 and 5? The Empire had to look it up. It’s 27.


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