“It’s very different from math class,” said Sarah Olson, a seventh-grader at Pyle Middle School in Montgomery County. “You can come up with your own ways of solving the problems.”
Alisha Seam, an eighth-grader at Longfellow Middle School in Fairfax County, took fourth place in the Virginia state competition this year. To her, even the hours of practice are fun. “You don’t just look at math as a bunch of numbers and figures,” she said. “We practiced five to seven hours a week.”
Experts say that competition and creativity add an element of joy to math and other subjects that can change students’ attitudes about what they are learning. “Motivating students to do more challenging math by showing it is more interesting and fun is a great idea,” said Matthew Gandal, executive vice president of Achieve Inc., a nonprofit educational organization.
The national competition was won by mathlete Gregory Gauthier, who answered: “How many five-digit positive integers have the sum of all five digits equal to 8 and the product of all five digits equal to 8?” (Answer: 10 integers) He attends Monroe Middle School in Wheaton, Illinois. Illinois, my home state, won the team competition, beating out California.