Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 7:51 PM on Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Middle school students run the numbers

By McKibben Jackinsky
staff writer


Photographer: McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

Winning ribbons in the sprint round were students (from left) Jayce Miller of Homer Connections, Drake Miller of Soldotna Montessori, Thomas Randall of Aurora Borealis Charter School and Austin McGregor of Homer Middle School.

Quicker than you can say one-plus-one, students from Homer, Soldotna and Kenai middle schools, the Connections program in Homer, Aurora Borealis Charter School, River City Academy, Soldotna Montessori and Chapman, Nikolaevsk and Ninilchik schools heard complicated questions, pressed the buzzer and shouted out the correct answers.

At least it seemed that way to anyone watching the fast-paced action of the sixth annual Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Math Meets, held Friday morning at Homer Middle School.

The 40-minute sprint round kicked off the meet. Students were given 30 word problems that had to be solved without the aid of calculators and armed only with their knowledge of prime numbers, Pythagoras' Theorem, similar triangles, recognizing and solving proportions, graphing linear equations and basic geometry formulas.

A target round followed, with students given 30 minutes to unravel the problems posed. Lacking calculators to solve the multi-step problems, the students depended on their basic knowledge of math, such as how to solve the sum of a series of numbers and some geometry facts.

Next came the team round in which the action got a bit trickier, according to Sara Reinert. Reinert an associate professor of math at Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage, also helped organize the event.

Each team had 20 minutes to solve 10 problems.

"One person cannot do every problem," said Reinert. "They have to split up the problems to get them all done."

Some schools lacked enough participating students to make a team. Once everyone was registered, however, coaches created the teams without respect to school, grade, gender or ability.

"We like to do it this way as it gives more kids an opportunity for success," said Reinert.

After a break for lunch, which allowed judges time to compile scores, the 12 top scoring students from the sprint and target rounds went toe-to-toe in a countdown round. That also was when visitors were invited in to watch the action.

Competing in pairs, students were given a question to be answered correctly within 45 seconds. The first student in each pair to answer two questions correctly advanced to the next round until only one of the 12 competitors remained.

Drake Thomas of Soldotna Montessori was the overall winner of the sprint-target round. Thomas won an iPod Touch.

Allison Ostrander from Aurora Borealis was the winner of the countdown round. She won an iTunes card.

Six of the 12 Homer Middle School students made it into the countdown round.

"That was more than any other school," said Reinert. "The only other school as a whole that came close was Aurora Borealis, with three kids in the top 12."

Preparations for the math meet began in the fall when HMS math instructor Suzanne Haines and Reinert prepare competition packets that are distributed to each school in the district wanting one. The packets include sprint, target and team practice tests so students will be familiar with the competition format. The meet is modeled after the national MathCounts competition.

"The Homer kids prepare for the competition by participating in the MathCounts program that I offer at the middle school," said Reinert. "The program is optional and is available to the advanced seventh grade math students and the eighth graders enrolled in algebra."

This year, 30-40 students participated. An invitation to participate in the meet is extended to students participating in the weekly MathCounts meetings.

Homer students also are given an opportunity to travel to the formal Anchorage MathCounts Chapter meet.

"Either the Homer team or an individual from Homer has qualified to travel to the state meet," said Reinert. "Homer kids are smart and their teachers from (kindergarten) on up are great."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.