A perfect score

Two Columbia teens make perfect score in international math contest.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:16 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Mike Rowson, a math teacher at West Junior High School, teaches an honors geometry class in which Alan Ni, left, and Craig Chval are students. The two eighth-graders received perfect scores in the international American Mathematics Contest.

Two Columbia eighth-graders are among the world’s best young mathematicians after achieving perfect scores on a test sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America. West Junior High students Craig Chval and Alan Ni, both 14, will meet with Gov. Matt Blunt this morning to receive congratulations for their achievement.

More than 147,000 students in fifth through eighth grades participated in the internationally administered American Mathematics Contest, or AMC-8, last fall, and of those, 289 students got perfect scores. Of the students who missed none of the test’s 25 questions, 121 were American and four were from Missouri.

Quiz Yourself

Joe had walked halfway from home to school when he realized he was late. He ran the rest of the way to school. He ran 3 times as fast as he walked. Joe took 6 minutes to walk halfway to school. How many minutes did it take Joe to get from home to school? A) 7 B) 7.3 C) 7.7 D) 8 E) 8.3 Soda is sold in packs of 6, 12 and 24 cans. What is the minimum number of packs needed to buy exactly 90 cans of soda? A) 4 B) 5 C) 6 D) 8 E) 15 Sample question answers: 1. D Covering the same distance three times as fast takes one-third the time. So Joe ran for 2 minutes. His total time was 6 + 2 = 8 minutes. 2. B To get the minimum total number, purchase as many 24-packs as possible: three 24-packs contain 72 cans, and 90 - 72 = 18. To get the remaining 18 cans, purchase one 12-pack and one 6-pack. The minimum total number of packs is 5.

Alan, who has been in accelerated math classes at West for two years, said he was surprised to hear he had made a perfect score on the 40-minute test.

“It was exciting to find out that I got a perfect score,” he said. “I did some practice tests from past years, but the (real) one was easier.”

Craig said he, too, was excited to hear he’d gotten a perfect score. “The test didn’t seem as hard as they told me it would be,” he said. “I finished early.”

Both boys have grown up in families that emphasized the importance of math education from an early age. Craig’s mother is a professor of math education at MU. He said she’s “been teaching math to me since a young age.” Alan’s story is similar; he said his mother “did a lot of math with me when I was younger.”

Craig’s father, Craig Chval, said he and his wife are proud of their son and are excited to meet with Blunt.

“Craig is very gifted in that area,” he said. “We’re pretty proud. He’s put me to shame!”

Craig and Alan are teammates on West’s MathCounts competitive math team, which is coached by mathematics teacher Mike Rowson. The team placed second in a state competition earlier this year.

Rowson said he’s gotten to know the boys over the years because of their involvement in the MathCounts team, and that though Craig and Alan “have different personalities ... they are still fun to be around, and that’s the interesting part. It’s always good when students have a good personality as well as the math ability.”

Rowson is in his twelfth year of teaching at West.

“This is the second year since I’ve been involved that we’ve had two students at West score a perfect score,” he said. “And since (perfect scores) are a pretty tiny segment of the population, the fact that we had two of them is just great.”

Alan said competing with MathCounts helped him do well on the test, though he said the type of math encountered on the AMC-8 test differs from the problems solved during MathCounts competitions. “I think MathCounts’ problems are more ‘think outside of the box,’ and the AMC test questions were a little more about fundamentals,” he said.

After moving to Columbia his fifth-grade year, Craig began taking accelerated math classes as soon as he could, taking honors algebra I in sixth grade, honors geometry in seventh and honors algebra II this year. Alan has taken a similar path, also enrolling in accelerated algebra and geometry. Both boys will attend West for one more year then attend Rock Bridge High School.

As for turning their math prowess into careers, both Craig and Alan said they “haven’t really thought about it.”

West Junior High will recognize the boys for their achievement, Rowson said. “We will present them with certificates, an announcement over the intercom, and they get end-of-the-year awards for this,” he said. “Of course, we give them a hard time as well.”

According to the Mathematical Association of America Web site, about 3,000 students in 50 Missouri schools took the AMC-8 test, with the average score for eighth-graders in Missouri being 10.4 questions answered correctly out of 25.

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