Brains plus hard work equals math trophy for 2


For two seniors at Arundel High School, the small, gold trophy in the display case in the school's lobby is a long-awaited reward for hard work and some sacrificed Saturday mornings. For their teachers, it is a source of pride.

Matthew David and Allen Tong, both 17, helped their school win the first-place trophy in this year's 25th annual county high school math competition, sponsored by the Anne Arundel Community College.

"The student body is proud of the math team's accomplishments," said Dale Rains, an Arundel High math teacher. "They have heard about each win on the intercom during the morning announcements. Everybody feels good about it."

It was the fourth try for Matthew, who has entered every year since he was a freshman, and the second for Allen, who moved to Anne Arundel County two years ago. Last year, Allen placed third in the individual competition, and his school placed third overall.

The two said they entered the competition this year determined to win.

"Last year we said we were going to beat Severna Park and we did it," said Matthew. Severna Park High School, the winner for the past six years, came in second this year. Glen Burnie High School placed third.

"I can't remember our school winning first place in the last 10 years," said Ms. Rains. "We had a large number of students who worked well together in the competition."

No practice sessions were held for the competition. Team members simply used the knowledge they already had. The high school's math department wanted to make the contest fun and recreational for students who enjoy math, Ms. Rains said.

Math comes naturally to Matthew and Allen. Both completed calculus their junior years and are taking an independent study class in linear algebra this semester. They say they will put those skills to work next year.

Allen has received a full scholarship to study engineering at the University of Maryland College Park. Matthew plans to study physics or biochemistry at either the Johns Hopkins University, Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania or Dartmouth College.

The two said they did not mind giving up a few Saturdays to participate in the competition. To them it was the same as other students sacrificing afternoons for baseball or gymnastics practice.

"It was no big deal. It didn't really bother me," Allen said.

Allen noticed other students recognizing math for the first time.

"Math is not as well-known to people like football. . . . It's not a spectator sport," he said. "After the contest, people would stop me in the halls to congratulate me."

The math competition is held five Saturday mornings during the school year at the community college. Students participate individually and in teams. Contestants must answer six brain-teasers that test their knowledge of analytical geometry and algebra within 30 minutes.

The math faculty at the community college started the competition to "open the lines between the community college and county high schools," said Cathy Hess, competition director.

Schools are scored by adding the top team scorer to the average of the top three individuals. An ideal score is six points.

Allen and Matthew recorded perfect scores in one of the individual tests and led their two teams in correctly answering all but two of the 30 questions asked of the teams during the entire competition. Allen won the individual title by correctly answering 26 of this year's 30 questions.

"Anne Arundel took everybody by storm this year," Ms. Hess said.

Southern High School won Most Improved award for more than doubling its score from last year.

Alicia Brooks of South River won a certificate for Most Improved Student.

John Wisthoff, professor of mathematics, and Joseph Heffelfinger, associate professor of mathematics, wrote the problems for the test.

Any high school in the county may enter 15 students in the competition.

But three teams per school may be registered. However, schools may send different students each Saturday.

Eleven public and two private schools participated this year.

"Most like math," Ms. Hess said. "If you're going to get up Saturday morning to do math, you must love it."


Here are sample questions from the brain-teasers Anne Arundel high school students confronted during the 25th annual county math competition sponsored by the Anne Arundel Community College and the answers.

* If three cats consume four cans of food in two days, how many cans of food will five cats consume in twelve days?

40 cans

* In a certain economics course, 36 students took a test on which the minimum passing score was 60. The average score of the students who passed the test was 68 while the average score of those failing the test was 50. If the overall class average was 61, find the number of students who failed the test.

14 students failed

* A community group wished to enclose a piece of ground with evenly spaced posts connected by a chain. They find that if they set the posts 1 foot apart, they will have 150 too few posts. If they set the posts 1 yard apart, there will be 70 too many. How many posts do they have?

180 posts

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