Battle of the brains
May 22, 2009
In March, 14 students from Park City High School (PCHS) and nine students from Treasure Mountain International School (TMIS) spent a day voluntarily taking a math test without a calculator. That’s right: word problems, equations and geometry galore. Willingly. No calculator.
If you can’t fathom why students would subject themselves to such a brain-boggling endeavor, you’re not the only one.
But for these brainy boys and girls, the 2009 Utah State Math Test was an opportunity to show that Park City measures up to other schools not only on an athletic level, but in academic prowess as well.
The mathletes joined 2,232 students from 146 schools across the state at Utah Valley University. Schools were allowed to bring up to five students from each grade level.
There was one exam for seventh- through ninth-graders and one exam for tenth- through twelfth-graders. Each exam consisted of 40 questions and students had exactly two-and-a-half hours to complete the test. Correct answers merited five points, incorrect answers received zero points and blank answers counted for one point. The grading rubric is different from most standardized tests because it penalizes those who guess the wrong answer.
PCHS sophomores Grant Sanderson, Yoojung Kim, Max Thomas, Alex Butler and Roman Amici contributed to their team’s second-place win in their division. Park City hadn’t placed in the top three in the contest since 2004.
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Sanderson took third place overall among sophomore individual contenders with a total score of 135 out of 200 possible points. The average points accrued by tenth-graders in the competition was 48.3.
"Grant is very hardworking and has a natural curiosity about mathematics," said math teacher Donna Hall. Sanderson also took a leadership role in getting the sophomores together to study and go over past tests, she noted. "He’s a really bright kid who is interested in helping other kids, and that’s really cool."
"Math is something that I’ve always liked and I liked the competition aspect," Sanderson said. The test isn’t about how much you’ve learned but rather how you can use what you learn to figure out problems you’ve never seen before, he explained. "The main thing is getting in the mind frame to approach problems in a creative way. I’m definitely looking forward to taking part next year and improving my score."
PCHS juniors Ashley Edwards, Daniel Wolf, Alex Scott, Paige Willoughby and Audrey Kohout also traveled to the competition, along with seniors Sam Noertker, Luke Engelbert-Fenton and Charles Esty. Cheyenne Lynsky, a sophomore, volunteered to take the test with the seniors after a couple of candidates dropped out at the last minute.
Hall said that the students who participated in the contest are talented not only at math; they excel in many different areas. "It’s not just the nerds who are doing well, it’s kids who are really well-rounded," she said.
Hall credits improvements in how math is being taught in the lower grades with preparing students for higher levels. "Something is working down below," she said. "This quantity of students would not be coming in ready for upper-level classes if it wasn’t."
Hall notes that the number of students enrolling in higher-level math classes has substantially increased over the past few years. In the fall, PCHS will offer five AP calculus courses, the most the school has ever offered. "We have such great programs," said Hall, who is also the department chair. "I’m really proud of my department."
TMIS math teacher Andrea Payne brought four eighth-graders and five ninth-graders to the state contest. "I was very pleased with their performance," she said.
Of the five ninth-graders who competed in the contest, Brett Davidson, Caleb Case and Laura Kelley all scored in the top 30 out of 470 contenders in their division. Eighth-graders Tommy Brown, Joey Johnson, Meghan Porter and Kayla Quinn and ninth-graders Marco Testa and Andrea Carmack also represented TMIS.
"This is something that’s not about winning or losing," Payne said. "It’s about how well you do."
And the best part is: you always have a chance to come back and do it all over again.