Mathletes in action

Thursday, November 13, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:03 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Find the sum of the solutions to 2x + 6x + 50.

This is not the usual question running through a high school student’s head at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday. But 44 students from four different high schools sat with legs shaking and pencils tapping, scratching their heads as they answered questions like this during a day of competition at the regional level of the Great Plains Math League High School Contest held on the MU campus on Nov. 1.

The Great Plains Math League is made up of students from Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, and competitions were held in each state on the same day. For the competition, schools are divided into categories based on size. Any school with 700 or more students in grades nine through 12 must compete as a large school; all others compete as a small school.

For the regional Columbia competition, students from Rock Bridge High School, Hickman High School, Columbia Independent School and Glasgow High School — the only small school in the event — competed in two individual and two team events.

The individual events included both sprint and target rounds. During the sprint round, competitors had 60 minutes to answer 30 multiple-choice questions, earning four points for each correct answer. A point was deducted for each incorrect answer, but no points were earned or deducted for unanswered questions.

During the target round, students answered eight questions, which were given out in pairs, and they had 10 minutes to answer each pair of questions. The scoring was the same for this round as in the sprint round.

Two events, the team test and relays, brought together three to six students from each school. The team test was made up of 10 questions to answer in 20 minutes, and competitors were permitted to work together. Each question was worth 10 points, and the top team test score from each school contributed to that school’s overall point total.

In the relay event, three students were aligned in a row and each was given one part of a three-part question. The first student answered his or her question and passed the answer on to the next student, who used that answer to solve part two and then passed that answer on to student three, who used it to solve the last part. If the question was answered correctly within three minutes, the team earned 10 points, and if answered within six minutes, the team earned five points. The top two team’s scores counted toward their school’s total.

“The team round is my favorite because you can talk to people and compare answers,” said Diana Mitrea, a junior at Hickman High School. “Today’s competition was pretty much what I expected. I don’t get too stressed out about the competitions because I’ve been doing them since I was in sixth grade.”

Students vied in the regional competition to qualify for the state competition. Strategies for competitions vary from school to school.

“I have my students look at tests from contests in previous years,” said Don Arni, a teacher at Glasgow High School. “This is our first competition of the year, so it gives students a chance to get curious and ask questions about the questions.”

Junior Tim Hsiau, winner of four awards, said competitors from Hickman High School meet once a month to go over questions.

“With more competitions coming up, everyone should prepare more,” Hsiau said. “Today’s questions were a mixture of easy and hard, but I have been to other competitions where the questions were really hard.”

The event was sponsored by private organizations and by the Missouri Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The state finals will be held April 17 at Rock Bridge High School. The Great Plains Math League Finals will be held in June.

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