It doesn’t seem funny enough to draw raucous laughter from a classroom of students at American Heritage School in Plantation, but you have to know the context. Junior Connor Gordon went to the board, and with a few quick strokes of the marker, said this:
“So this is 3 to 4 ratio, so ¾’s times 5/2’s equals 15/8’s.”
I don’t see the punchline, either. The giggles and guffaws came because two students had just spent five minutes working on the same problem, which apparently was solvable in about 15 seconds.
Welcome to the world of competitive math.
We watched the team at Cypress Bay High School in Weston doing intrasquad quizzing, with questions designed to be answered with minimal calculation.
“A class has 21 students, 13 females and 8 males. Suppose 6 are selected to attend a field trip. Find the probability that exactly 4 of the 6 will be female,” asked the student who was running the competition.
In less than 30 seconds, one of the competitors hit the beeper and announced the correct answer. If you’re curious, it’s .3689.
The kids at Cypress Bay, like their counterparts at American Heritage, are members of the Mu Alpha Theta math honor society.
“I think each problem is an opportunity to expand your mind and think about a way to solve a problem in an interesting way,” said Jeffrey Shim-Francis, a senior at Cypress Bay.
They’re all getting ready for a huge tournament at FAU this weekend, at which 1,300 mathletes from 45 South Florida high schools will be furiously calculating against each other in what they call a "nerd Super Bowl" and loving every left-brained minute.
“They’re honestly so much fun, you get to go on the weekends and it sounds really lame, like oh, I get to take a math test, but it’s so much more than that,” explained junior Marissa Farmer of Cypress Bay.
Senior Emily Namm of American Heritage agreed, saying, “It’s great to meet other kids who like and enjoy math and STEM fields as much as I do, to be able to talk about it without being judged and to enjoy it together.”
“It’s very much a collaborative effort, on the surface we’re competing against each other, but at the end of the day, all we really are about is helping ourselves and others get to be as good as possible,” Connor said.
The process of preparing for the math tournaments makes the students better mathematicians.
“I think these competitions push them to the limits of what they know,” said Ari Novick, the faculty advisor for Cypress Bay’s team.
“They go way beyond the math that’s taught in the normal classroom, the competitive level introduces subjects and topics that they never see normally in school,” said Richard Rovere, who coaches the math team at American Heritage.
The competition takes math to a higher level, and it all adds up to success. Competing in math tournaments looks great on college applications, especially when you’re on one of the top ten teams in the nation. Both Heritage and Cypress Bay can make that claim. Good luck to each of them at the tournament on Saturday.