Cheering, high fives and an impromptu “We Will Rock You” stomp would be typical of sports-stadium enthusiasm.
But this excitement was all for the sake of math.
On Nov. 7, the 7th annual MC2: McPherson College Math Competition invited 265 high school students from 18 area schools put their math skills to the test.
“Every time we do this, it’s very inspirational for me personally to see people turn out for a math event,” said Dr. Michael Reynolds, professor of mathematics.
Math-minded people have a wry sense of humor, as demonstrated by this year’s tagline that was printed on the back of every T-shirt ”“ “Without Geometry Life is Pointless” ”“ along with an image of a perfect square morphing into a circle.
But the day started off sedately enough with a written individual test. While the students worked quietly and intensely, two of their teachers took the opportunity to grade classwork at the nearby college library.
Darlene Griffiths, math teacher at Herington High School, said they keep returning to the math competition at McPherson College because when students have fun with math, they keep studying it.
“We keep hearing our nation is falling behind in math and science, so the more students we can get to take math and science – and take it further – the better,” she said. “I think this event helps helps students see there are other people who are not nerds and who like math and science.”
Gary Stuchlik, math/science teacher at Marion High School, said excelling at math and science can set students up for a great career, and it’s helpful to hear that from the college level.
“They hear about that message of the importance of math and science from someone else, which is helpful,” he said. “They hear it from us all the time.”
After lunch, the atmosphere turned decidedly rowdier in the group competition, which allowed students to collaborate in groups of four to come up with the answers to 10 questions. Airplanes, paper towers, high fives and shocked expressions were all in abundance as each answer was revealed.
The team names themselves revealed the students’ intelligence and creativity. They included obscure math jokes (We Are #Cos(0), Santa/I = real), bad puns (Sines of Madness, QT Pi’s), cultural references (Snakes on a Plane, ArithmeticklemeElmos) and the simply outlandish (Super Number Ninja Unicorns Times Ten to Infinity).
James Davis, a junior from Newton High School, was coming to the competition for the first time and expected a difficult contest ”“ even his teachers didn’t know how to solve some of the problems on a sample test provided to the schools ahead of time. He said he carefully handled the individual test’s unusual format of adding points for correct answers but also subtracting points for incorrect ones.
“It’s been fun and challenging,” he said. “It’s hard to keep up with some of the older guys. I feel like I did well. I approached it with strategy.”
While nine volunteers from McPherson College quickly tabulated the scores in “Mission Control,” Dave Barrett, vice president for admissions, introduced a new game for the high school students this year ”“ “Who Wants to Be a Mathonaire?”
Based on the popular “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” game show, Barrett chose students at random to compete. They were asked increasingly difficult math questions, with more and more valuable prizes for each level and an Amazon.com gift card the top prize after six questions. If they were struggling they could use lifelines of asking the students or asking a math teacher.
While the day was about fun and enjoyment, Dr. Kent Eaton, provost, also said promoting math was essential to the future.
“The world needs mathematicians and engineers to help solve some of the pressing problems of today,” he said.
The following high schools participated in the competition: Bennington High School, Fairfield High School, Goessel High School, Herington High School, Hesston High School, Hillsboro High School, Inman High School, Marion High School, McPherson High School, Moundridge High School, Newton High School, Nickerson High School, Peabody-Burns High School, Salina Central High School, Salina High School South, Solomon High School, Sterling High School, and Trinity Catholic High School in Hutchinson.