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All the right angles

Students participate in Upper Peninsula High School Math Challenge

Helpers pass out tests during Saturday’s Upper Peninsula High School Math Challenge at Northern Michigan University’s Jamrich Hall. Students from around the Upper Peninsula solved problems in individual, team and relay formats. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — As the T-shirts worn by the Forest Park High School’s team read, “The first step is admitting you have a problem.”

Solving those problems was the purpose of the 10th Annual Upper Peninsula High School Math Challenge, which took place Saturday at Jamrich Hall at Northern Michigan University.

Daniel Rowe, assistant professor of mathematics at Northern Michigan University, was the director of the event, which brought in 22 teams from eight schools: Marquette Senior High School, Forest Park High School in Crystal Falls, Munising Baptist School, Iron Mountain High School, Houghton Central High School, Escanaba Senior High School, Baraga Area High School and Lake Linden-Hubbell High School.

“It has a competitive side to it,” Rowe said. “Some teams definitely come having done their homework and they want to win, but a lot of kids also just enjoy math and problem-solving.

“It is a fun event. We play music. They get to work in groups. It’s just a way to celebrate, I think, more intellectually minded pursuits as like something equivalent to, say, football or hockey. It’s a chance to celebrate that and improve everyone’s math puzzle-solving skills and just their associations with math.”

The winning school in the Upper Peninsula High School Math Challenge receives a huge trophy, which Rowe likened to the Stanley Cup. The winning team takes it to their school to be displayed for a year, and then brings it back to the following year’s competition to defend it.

The team of Houghton Orange from Houghton Central took first place this year, with the team consisting of Samuel Fang, Sonia Jin, Shweta Pati and Linda Tang. Escanaba’s Esky Math 1, consisting of Kyra Beck, Christer Carne, Britney Chaillier and Michael Kaven, was runner-up. Taking the third spot was Cos I Said So from Marquette Senior High School, whose members were Leandra Bruggink, Tauni Camilli, Emma Walker and Kevin Zhang.

Second- and third-place squads receive medals while individuals receive prizes for the top three spots.

The top-finishing individual was Houghton Central’s Pati, followed by teammates Jin and Fang, respectively.

There were individual and team problem-solving rounds as well as relays, which worked in a different way.

Rowe said four players in a team start at the same time.

“They can start thinking about their problems, but to truly solve No. 2, they need the answer from No. 1, and then to truly solve No. 3, they need the answer from No. 2, and then so on,” Rowe said.

Once they have all their answers at the “fourth chair,” the answers are brought to the judges.

“The judge only tells them if they’re all correct, and if there’s any one of them that’s wrong, they have to go back and try again,” Rowe said. “It’s a bit complicated, but it is literally a relay, but for math problem-solving. It’s kind of neat.”

Rowe said each school has a math coordinator who sets up the teams and organizes the trip to NMU.

The problems the squads must solve at the event encompass many parts of math, he said, including geometry, algebra, exponents and digits.

“I give them, maybe, some really big number and they have to figure out how many zeros it ends in,” Rowe said.

Or, there are a bunch of circles stacked on top of each other, and the teams must figure out the height of the stack.

One of the problems posed to students in an early round on Saturday was: “The radio of a to b is 4:3. The ratio of c to d is 2:1. The ratio of d to b is 1:6. What is the ratio of a to c?”

The answer was 4:1.

A sense of humor was evident as the teams had names such as Divide & Conquer, the Algebros and the Esky Mathletes.

However, the problem-solving was serious, with competitors having to finish their calculations within a certain time limit.

One student looked forward to the intellectual challenge and the camaraderie.

“I wanted to get better at math and have fun with friends and have a good time here at Northern,” said Daniel Lauritsen, a freshman at Baraga Area High School.