The nice thing about mathematics is ... you don't have to put the answers into words, says one Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School student who competed in a state Mathcounts contest early last month in Anchorage.

A four-boy team from Dzantik'i Heeni - Nick Waldo, Gus Browning, Isaac Stark and Dylan Wenzlau - placed third among seven teams from around the state. They and two other Juneau students - Ben Weyhrauch of Dzantik'i Heeni and Scott Haecker of Floyd Dryden Middle School - also competed as individuals.

The contest is sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. It put students through three rounds: one, working individually, to solve 30 problems in 40 minutes, without using a calculator; two, still working alone, to solve eight problems two at a time in six minutes for each pair, with a calculator; and three, as a team, to solve 10 problems in 20 minutes.

"They use algebra. They use geometry. They put everything together," Dylan, an eighth-grader, said of the problems. "It's just a lot wider variety of problems" than in math classes.

"They're all a lot harder than my math class," Nick, a seventh-grader, said of the problems.

The students said they enjoy math but it's hard to say why.

"It's a fun subject. It's just interesting, I guess," Gus, an eighth-grader, said.

"I like math more than some other subjects," Nick, a seventh-grader, said. "It's more of figuring stuff out, rather than memorizing facts."

"I like to do math," said Ben, a seventh-grader. "You get to figure out everything, instead of somebody just telling you the answers."

"You don't have to write," Dylan pointed out. "That's probably one of the best parts about it."

Dzantik'i Heeni math teacher Mary Borthwick coached the team. The students didn't mention it, but they enjoy competing, she thinks.

"I think they get a chance to compete academically," she said of the value of Mathcounts. "I think they're all interested in competing and showing off their stuff."

"The competitive edge is nice," Nick agreed.

The math problems are a mix of many things the students have learned, but they have to figure out how to put together the pieces of their knowledge, Borthwick said.

And, Borthwick said of Mathcounts, "It reminds me to show them a few things that don't show up in the regular math curriculum."

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