Two CCMS students recently competed in a state math competition in Corvallis

by: KEVIN SPERL - Jenna Porter (LEFT), Olivia Cooper, Kaitlyn Nixon, Elizabeth Koivisto, Casey Tunison and Hazel Hoffman tackle Pythagoras' Theorem in Matt Fischer's classroom.

How would you like to spend a weekend answering questions like: “If the points (-2, 5), (0, y) and (5,-16) are collinear, what is the value of y?”

If your answer is a resounding no, then you need to enlist the help of Crook County Middle School student's Olivia Cooper and Casey Tunison.

Having recently competed in the Central Oregon MATHCOUNTS regional competition, where the “mathletes” placed first and second overall, the two competed in Corvallis at the state competition this past weekend.

Members of the school’s math club, the pair joined teammates Hazel Hoffman, Jenna Porter, Elizabeth Koivisto, Kaitlyn Nixon, Carson Chamness, Josie Graydon, and Megan Frost, in Redmond for the regionals, where the team placed second overall out of six competing teams.

The MATHCOUNTS competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense and the State Department, is the only competition program of its kind, holding events in all 50 states and the U.S. territories.

The “bee-style” competition pits student against student and team against team for those enrolled in sixth, seventh or eighth grade.

Eighth-grade teacher, and team advisor, Matt Fischer, has brought students to the regional competition for the past three years.

“For this competition, I had 35 students try out for the team,” said Fischer, “We met after class, every Wednesday, to practice.”

The competition consisted of three rounds of problem solving.

The first round presented students with 30 problems to solve in 40 minutes, with each team member working on their own.

“The place was completely silent. No calculators were allowed, only pencils and paper,” explained Cooper. “And, there was a lot of scratch paper.”

Hoffman recalled one of the questions she found difficult.

“There was a stalactite and a stalagmite that were 10 feet apart, with each one having a different growth rate. We needed to figure out how many years it would take until they touched,” she explained. “I forgot about the stalactite growing, so I got that one wrong.”

Tunison added that the competition wasn’t anything like regular school tests.

“Instead of getting marked down for those you don’t answer correctly,” she said. “You get credit for those you get right.”

Tunison added that the problems covered topics in algebra, geometry and statistics, and, depending on what level of math students were studying in class, could be difficult.

“Most of what I knew was from what I had learned on my own,” she said, adding that word problems are particularly difficult because it takes careful reading to understand what needs to be solved.

“And, the problems get harder as you go along,” added Cooper.

After a short break, the second round tasked students with two problems to solve in six minutes time.

Calculators were allowed for this round, but it didn’t make it any easier.

“Because you could use calculators, the problems were that much harder,” said Cooper.

The third, and final round, brought the team together to solve 10 problems in 20 minutes, but, according to Hoffman, not before everyone had a chance to grab some muffins and carrots for snacks.

Porter recalled one of the problems asking the team to fill in a three-by-three grid of numbers so that each row and column added up to the same value.

Proving Edison’s theory that genius is nine-tenths perspiration and one tenth inspiration, each of the students had their secrets for getting ready for the competition.

Nixon used her experience from last year’s competition to prepare, saying that she had taken worksheets home with her to study on her own time.

Cooper spent time writing down formulas she thought she might need.

Tunison simply enjoyed the challenge of having to figure something out.

Along the way, there was ample opportunity to win prizes. Hoffman won a subway gift card, Nixon won a Cup of Yo gift card and Tunison won the final countdown round, taking home a $30 REI gift card.

Regardless of how they placed, the students simply enjoyed hanging out with other students that loved math as much as they do.

“That’s what's awesome about MATHCOUNTS,” said Cooper, who claims to be part Vulcan. “There was a whole bunch of kids showing up on Saturday to do math. They are nerds like the rest of us.”

As their mentor, Fischer is impressed with the club’s commitment, attitude and willingness to tackle some very difficult questions.

“They are all outstanding, wonderful people who are willing to take on tough challenges,” he said. “And for Casey and Olivia, I am very proud of all they did to prepare for the state competition.”

Tunison and Cooper did not place high enough at the state level to move on to the nationals, but, as Fisher described, “They did it all with smiles on their faces.”

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