MD math team members Yuan and Sun (6) qualify for state championships

Ben Rafal, Staff Writer

“During our meetings, we have mini-competitions where you answer questions and the first person to answer the question stays while the loser moves on,” Felix Yuan (6) said. “That’s really fun because it’s a competition and you get to see who’s strong at what.” The Middle Division (MD) Math Team participated in their first MathCounts competition of the school year against the Ivy League schools last Thursday. At the competition, Yuan and Brighten Sun (6) both qualified for tomorrow’s state championships in Saratoga Springs.

Upper Division student coaches Myra Singh (12) and Jacob Silverstein (11) lead the club and  work alongside faculty advisory and MD math teacher Kimberly Jackson as the administrators of the team. During their hour-long meetings each Wednesday, MD club members learn more about math and prepare for competitions, Singh said.

Competitions consist of three rounds, a 40-minute sprint round, four six-minute intervals of two questions, and a collaborative round with teams of four at the end, Singh said. Many of the mathematical skills involved are conventional middle school-level concepts, such as probability and geometry. Questions are phrased so the competitors are required to think critically and use shortcuts to determine solutions. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the competitions have all been held virtually due to COVID-19.

Competition math is different from regular math because it does not require as much standard arithmetic knowledge, Singh said. “A lot of importance is put on knowing tricks and formulas that help in certain situations,” she said. “A lot of the time it’s more about being creative and using logic.”

The team spends the majority of their meetings taking practice tests and self-evaluating in order to understand their individual strengths and weaknesses in the competition format, she said. 

The club prioritizes practicing with the resources provided by the MathCounts website in order to get a feel for the competition before it happens, Jackson said.

They also practice collaboration, because fluid communication while solving problems as a group is an essential skill for success in the team rounds, Singh said.

Jackson enjoys seeing the team get involved in countdown rounds, which allow the students to become lively and enthusiastic than in the classroom, she said. “I enjoy that they have the opportunity to use their reasoning skills and apply their keen mathematical abilities to solve problems,” she said. “I love that they’re so engaged and want to be there to take on the challenge of these harder situations.”

Yuan joined the math team both because he was interested in solving more advanced problems and because he wanted to have the chance to spend time with other students who also enjoy math, Yuan said. 

Sun joined because math has been his favorite subject since second grade, and he has always been interested in challenging himself, he said.

The state-wide competition requires a higher level of knowledge than the team is familiar with, as the stakes are raised, Singh said. “[Sun and Yuan] are super bright and know all of the tricks and can handle this type of competition, so I’m sure they will do well,” she said.

Silverstein remembers being a part of the math team in the Middle Division, especially the unique competition environment. “Everyone is pretty composed. It’s definitely stressful, since there are 150 or 200 kids in a room during non-pandemic years. It’s a stressful environment but normally not that imposing.” 

Yuan experienced the competition environment last week during the first competition of the year, he said. “My hands were cold and I was nervous. I had one set [of problems] left and I was down to a minute left, and I started worrying. I ended up being not that productive, and I got the question wrong,” he said.

Yuan feels nervous for his first time going to state championships, but is aiming to score well and put in a good effort, he said. “I’m also excited because it’s a new chance for me to do something I’ve never done before,” he said, “I felt excited last week when I was competing against my friends because I wanted to prove that I’m better than them. It’s very competitive between us.”

Along with Yuan, Sun will be attending the state competition this Saturday. While last week’s competition was Sun’s first time participating in a MathCounts event, he has past experience from elementary school, and also has competed in the AMC 8 competition twice and the Math Kangaroo competition three times, he said. “I’m a little bit nervous but mainly excited, because there’s nothing to lose since it’s my first time.”

While only Sun and Yuan will be attending the state championships this weekend, the rest of the team will have the opportunity to compete in other competitions this spring, run by MoMath and Purple Comet, Jackson said. 

Jackson believes that the team will be motivated for the spring competitions, as they competed well on Thursday and are very interested in practicing new concepts, she said. “For the most part, they were self-selected. Most of the students who competed really wanted to be there. There was no ‘cutting’ process, necessarily.”

Singh loves when the team has the opportunity to practice countdown rounds, which get the whole team engaged in finding patterns and tricks within the questions, she said. “Oftentimes, the kids will really impress me. When I’m trying to do [a problem] in my head and they get it super quickly in a really creative way, I always love to see that.”

During these rounds, it is evident that many of the students are super eager to solve problems and prove their knowledge, Silverstein said. “One time, a couple kids wondered if they could challenge the high school coaches and see if they could beat us. That made me laugh a little bit.”