KMS Mathletes Take First at Regional Math Competition, Five Students Place in Top Six Slots
Upcoming Competitions Highlight Growing Popularity of “Mathletes”
Kalispell Middle School mathletes brought home the top spot in the MathCounts regional competition, shutting out their competition by occupying five of the top six spots at FVCC on Feb. 16th. Their top team performance won them a berth in the state competition in Butte on March 9th. Students can move onto national competition based on their performance at the state competition.
The KMS Math Team will be honored at 6 p.m. this Tuesday, March 7th at the school board of trustees meeting.
Top mathletes for the competition include Peter Konopka who won first place, Colter Girardot who won second place, Mason Rediger who won the third-place spot, Eva Bruce who took the fifth-place spot and Mason Fauth who took home sixth place position. All six students will advance to the Butte competition.
Special recognition goes to Peter Konopka as the Countdown Round Champion. Henry Smith was the Runner-Up. The Countdown Round focuses on speed and accuracy. Students have a maximum of 45 seconds per problem without a calculator.
Other regional participants include Ethan Eagleton, Thomas Putnam, Hannah Klassy, and Emily Hove.
The KMS team’s performance is worthy of note. Of the 10 middle school students who competed, all of them placed in the top 30 slots, putting them in the top third competitors. 84 students competed in the MathCounts regional competition. The team is coached by Peter Musick, an 8th grade math teacher at Kalispell Middle School
While most sports fans equate March with basketball and March madness, March is also math season and this state competition is the culminating event for a season that starts in September. And while many consider math a more cerebral act—the levels of competition highlight a growing popularity of math competitions. The math season is similar to regular sports—with weekly practice and a season that spans from Sept- March. The term ‘mathlete’ was coined to encompass this competitive styled math.
“Your brain is a muscle and we work that muscle with math,” coach Musick explained. “We want to share that competition is not just for athletics. Our community needs to know we have such strong competitors in math.”
The MathCounts Competition Series has 4 levels of competition—school (which is optional), chapter, state and national. Each level of competition is comprised of four rounds—Sprint, Target, Team and Countdown Round. Altogether the rounds are designed to take about three hours to complete. The Sprint Round focuses on speed and accuracy. Students have 40 minutes to complete 30 math problems without a calculator. The Target Round focuses on problem-solving and mathematical reasoning. Students receive 4 pairs of problems and have six minutes to complete each pair, assuming the use of a calculator. The Team Round focuses on problem-solving and collaboration. Students have 20 minutes to complete 10 math problems, assuming the use of a calculator. The Countdown Round focuses on speed and accuracy. Students have a maximum of 45 seconds per problem without a calculator.
Like sports such as track and field or swimming, math competitions are part individual performance but also have a team element.
“In the end, they are the ones taking the test, the team’s score solely depends on their individual performance,” Musick explained.
As head coach for the KMS math team, Musick recruits from math classes at Kalispell Middle School. His team started with 40 kids; from that 23 kids lasted the season and 10 qualified for post season competitions—underlining the rigor of math competition. Musick is proud of the 16 kids whose consistent participation pre- and post-season showed a love of math that endured the year.
To prepare kids for competition, Musick tries to understand and harness each student’s individual skills and talents in math.
“I look at all of the kids and how they think. Then I try to excite that thinking about math by giving them different math problems and giving them the time to work through each math problem.”
Practice involves both individual challenges and collaboration as students solve each problem. If students are stuck on a specific problem, Musick turns that into a lesson.
Because math is often associated with the pressure of failing or grades, Musick finds that mathletes learn that math can be fun.
“If you make a mistake, it’s no big deal. There’s no grade and no pressure of failing. By allowing kids to do it themselves I create independent and self-motivated mathletes.”
For Musick, overcoming the stereotype that math is ‘geeky’ is half the battle. “Sometimes I have to push kids to get started because they think it’s geeky or not cool. But I get every type of kid. I have athletes, musicians—all sorts. And many of their peers look up to this group academically.”
What separates a mathlete from just someone who does math?
“When they get excited about solving math problems, I know they are hooked.” Musick explained.
On Thursday, March 16th, FVCC will host the Northwest regional MCTM Math Contest. This contest is open to 7-12 grade students in the valley. Kalispell Middle School will have 63 participants attend.