How to build a bridge and figure out the number of tiles needed to cover a bathroom floor are just two of life's more difficult problems. Yesterday, 289 Baltimore-area fourth-graders offered answers.
"It was so hard, but easy," said Sarah Sutala, 9, of Bollman Bridge Elementary in Savage. "You had to do a lot of multiplying and dividing."
Provident Bank's third annual Math Mania Challenge Round at Towson State University drew pupils from Baltimore City and Howard, Harford, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. The finalists had been randomly selected from 2,062 fourth-graders who correctly completed five math problems -- some of which took several days.
The daylong Towson State event was designed to improve problem-solving skills and prepare the students for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, a test taken in third, fifth and eighth grades.
The problems also were designed "to encourage young people to do mathematics, enjoy mathematics and see the purpose of mathematics in everyday life," said Loretta Molitor, director of Towson State's Center of Mathematics and Science Education.
"You got to learn about more people and you got to work in a group. And the best part was solving problems," said Alex Lowitt, 9, of Clemons Crossing Elementary in Columbia.
"It's a honor to be here. You're one of the people picked to be in the mathematics challenge, and people from all over Maryland are here," said Katie Parks, 9, of Cedarmere Elementary in Reisterstown.
"I love math," said Catherine Jampel, 9, of Summit Park Elementary in Baltimore County. "I like the way how everything makes sense. It doesn't in real life."
The young people worked in groups of 10, tackling a series of four multiple-step problems that involved geometry, estimation, measuring and computation. They used measuring tapes, rulers, small rods and geometric-shaped blocks.
One problem that involved assembling miniature crates was particularly vexing for some students.
"That was so hard," said Kallen Flesher, 9, of Pleasant Plains Elementary in Loch Raven. "We had to make unique shapes of boxes and make sure one side touched another."
Students had 30 minutes to complete the problems and could use calculators. For many, teamwork -- or the lack of it -- was the most difficult part. "We accomplished [the problems] faster because we learned how to work as a team better," said Mark Subrizi, 10. The team was from Homestead and Wakefield elementaries in Harford County.
Some students had difficulty finding words to describe how they came up with their answers -- a necessary step in solving the puzzles.
"It says explain your answers, not draw them," said Keith Nielsen, 10, of William S. James Elementary in Abingdon as he watched a teammate draw a picture of a bridge the group built out of plastic rods.
As the day wore on, students who at first barely spoke to each other were joking and giggling together as they stood in line for pizza and soda in a campus dining hall.
At one table in the lunchroom, Lauren Crook, 10, of Seven Oaks Elementary in Perry Hall and Erika Jackson-Stokes, 10, of Roland Park Elementary shared cheese pizza and soda. When asked if they had met new friends that day, each girl shyly pointed over the table at the other.
Members of the team that won first place and $10,000 to be shared by their schools were Steven Lambert of Waugh Chapel Elementary in Anne Arundel; Joy Hall of Yorkwood Elementary in Baltimore City; Shannon Sedgewick of Hillendale Elementary, Tom Franklin of Timonium Elementary and Natan Kalmanovitch of Wellwood Elementary, all in Baltimore County; Crystal Martin of Church Creek Elementary in Harford; and Kyle Derby of Worthington Elementary in Howard.