Making Education Count

Six student 'mathletes' travel to Anchorage for state competition

Posted: Thursday, March 02, 2006

Six Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School students are traveling to Anchorage today for a competition that really counts.

A math team composed of five eighth-graders and one seventh-grader will compete in Saturday's statewide Mathcounts competition being held at Romig Middle School. The team will spend Saturday morning solving individual and group problems that cover algebra, geometry, number theory, probability and statistics.

"Usually you don't see math in the format of a competition," said math coach Dawn Momblow. "It's a great way to encourage higher-level thinking because these problems that they are doing are pretty challenging. They're pretty challenging for the adults who are running it."

Eighth-graders Aaron Cohen, Chelsea Speegle, Robin Woodby, Logan Miller, Shane Prentice Walz and seventh-grader Maya Rieselback battled their way through a schoolwide and a citywide competition to make it to the statewide event. The top four "mathletes" at the state competition will represent Alaska at the national competition in May.

Cohen, a basketball and baseball player, said academic competitions can be pretty exciting.

"A lot of people know me for my sports accomplishments and stuff and it's always good to have another angle - that you're not only good at sports, you're also good at academics too," he said.

Cohen said not all students think a math competition can be fun.

"A lot of people say that Mathcounts, 'Oh, you're some nerd kid,' but it's not like that," he said. "A bunch of people do this and it's pretty fun."

"Math is cool," Speegle said. "It takes commitment, but it's fun."

The competition is broken down into three rounds. In the first round, or "sprint round," the students have 40 minutes to answer 30 questions individually, without a calculator. In the second round, or "target round," students are given six minutes to do two problems at a time using a calculator, answering eight questions total. In the third round the team is given 10 problems that they divide amongst themselves and share the answers.

Longtime Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School teacher Mary Borthwick, who retired in June, came back to coach again this year because it is "something I love and was hard to give up," she said.

Borthwick, who is coaching for her 23rd year, said the Mathcounts competition helps the students in more ways than just learning about math.

"It gives them a sense of their own abilities," she said. "Many of these kids know they're probably pretty good at math, but what this does is gives them a challenge. It stretches their minds. It gives them a chance to see how well they can work with other kids."

The math team and competitions also helps build self-esteem, Borthwick said.

"I think it's really important that kids know that they are good at math and can do it and it's valued," she said.

Speegle said getting more involved with math has helped her appreciate the subject more.

"I didn't use to like it very much, but now I kind of understand it more so I just do it for fun," she said.

The students and coaches have been practicing for an hour and a half each day after school in preparation of Saturday's event. Cohen said the most challenging part of the competition for him so far is staying after school each day.

"Some days I just want to go home and not have anything else to do for learning for that day, but I have to come here," he said.

Much like team sports, Cohen said the math team wins or loses together.

"I want the team to do well so if I don't do well the team doesn't do well," he said.

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