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May 18, 2010 > Local students win national math competition

Local students win national math competition

By Alyson Whitaker
Photos By courtesy of Raytheon Photographers

Question: "To play the following game, you start with $1. With each move, you can either double your money or add $1 to it. What is the smallest number of moves you have to make to get to exactly $200?" (See answer at bottom)

Stumped? Join the club! But four local middle school students recently solved this problem along with dozens of others as a team, winning the title of National Team Champions at the 27th annual MATHCOUNTS Competition.

Lewis Chen and Aaron Lin, both from Hopkins Junior High School in Fremont, along with Douglas Chen (Cupertino), and Eugene Chen (Pleasanton) represented California at the national math competition in Lake Buena Vista, Florida on May 7. After a rigorous day of individual and team competition, the four 8th graders were on the edge of their seats as the top ten teams were announced. When their names were announced as winners, their reaction was a mix of elation and disbelief!

Much like a spelling bee or science competition, the MATHCOUNTS Competition begins on a local level at middle schools all over the country. To advance to the national competition, students had to not only place in the top four of their peers during their state competition in March, but they also had to advance through local and chapter competitions. Because California covers such a large geographical area, two state competitions were held simultaneously-north and south-and results from both were compiled. All four top finishers were from Bay Area schools!

California team coach, Donna Phair, is a math teacher at Hopkins Junior High School in Fremont. Her love of math is contagious, and she strives to help students apply math concepts to real life problems. "It would be very nice if life was filled with multiple choice answers... but it's not!" she says. Learning the steps to identify a problem and then come up with an equation to solve it helps students prepare for adulthood in a very tangible way.

Mrs. Phair's math enrichment program at Hopkins begins early in the year for both 7th and 8th graders. Through fun and interesting math concepts, she builds upon what is being taught in their grade level math courses. She also helps students prepare for math competitions, including MATHCOUNTS.

MATHCOUNTS is America's only nationwide enrichment, coaching, club, and competition program that motivates and rewards middle school students for outstanding math achievement. Through fun and challenging math programs, MATHCOUNTS has helped over 6 million students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills through participation in the program. Currently, the organization distributes program information, curriculum, and materials to over 48,000 middle schools.

The lead sponsor of the competition is Raytheon Corp. The company has just signed on to continue as head sponsor through 2015. Chairman and CEO William Swanson was the honorary chairman at the 2010 MATHCOUNTS Competition. "Mathematics is the common language of our world, and it is a path to our future. My greatest wish is that the students will remember the excitement of this competition and continue to use math throughout their studies and in their exciting careers to come."

Just as if training for a sporting event, the "mathletes" go through very intensive training in preparation for the competition. They practiced solving thousands of word problems, learning shortcuts for identifying equations and the quickest way to solve a problem. Lewis, Eugene, Aaron, and Douglas practiced individually and as a team several days a week leading up to their all-expense paid trip to Florida.

The persistence paid off-each member of the team was awarded a $2,000 scholarship, along with a paid trip to space camp this summer. They will also be flown back to Washington, D.C. to meet President Obama later this year.

With the knowledge, critical thinking skills, and teamwork developed through this experience, these boys are sure to be able to solve any problem that comes their way!

Still trying to figure out the answer to the problem at the beginning? The answer is 9 moves (1-2-3-6-12-24-25-50-100-200)!

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