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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Middle school students like the challenge in math program

Mar 03, 2020 11:30AM ● By Julie Slama

More than 80 Canyons School District middle school students tackled challenging problems Jan. 28 at the district’s annual MATHCOUNTS competition. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

While many people may just shake their heads when faced with the problem to find what value of x yields a minimum value of the sum (x-20) + (x-21) + (x-22) + (x-23) + (x-210), 83 Canyons School District middle school students tackled that problem at the Jan. 28 district’s annual MATHCOUNTS competition.

Since 1985, local middle school students have participated in the MATHCOUNTS program to promote middle school mathematics. The program is offered in every U.S. state and territory.

At the district competition, students had four rounds: a 30-question sprint round, a target round with four sets of two problems, a team competition where students work together on 10 questions and an oral countdown round.

The top 14 students, plus their teams, competed Feb. 8 at the chapter level, which included Jordan School District. Canyons School District students regularly advance to state, and even nationals.

While the math enrichment program is optional, District Instructional Specialist Rachel Marshall encourages participation in MATHCOUNTS.

“A lot of students want extra challenging math,” she said. “It’s problem-solving. It’s not everyday math they do at school.”

Most of the students learn how to identify and solve problems and understand concepts with their peers either before or after school. They prepare for the MATHCOUNTS competitions by studying previous years’ exams.

“We were teaching sixth graders Pythagorean Theory for fun. We review what they learned and for some, learning new material,” Draper Park Coach Patricia Stirling said, citing work in probability, simplifying radicals, solving equations by substitution series, and quadratic formula.

Draper Park parent Jody Rowser supports her sixth-grade daughter, Mary, and her teammates.

“They’re learning something new and they’re having fun. It sounds like an oxymoron that they’re having fun while doing math, but they’re joking, drinking pop and getting to know other people with similar interests,” Rowser said.

At Butler Middle School, coach Amy Giles brought 14 students, the most in recent years.

“We invited our honors students, but we also announced if you enjoy math, please come to MATHCOUNTS,” she said. “These are kids who enjoy a higher level of math. My favorite part is when they go head-to-head to solve problems. Some have the answers before many have even read and processed it.”

While MATHCOUNTS practices may be limited to the school year, Giles said some of her students participate in summer math camps. However, all her students benefit from mini-tutorials as they write and solve equations from story problems and learn different strategies to solve problems and take tests.

“These students have a knack for math and are here just to learn more,” she said. “This will prepare them for skills they will need in high school, but right now, they’re just having fun competing as a team.”