Adding it all up
MHS math team students say competition is just one part of a good experience
MARSHALL — They solve math problems for fun — and they even do it competitively. But although being part of Marshall High School’s Math League team can be intense, students said it’s also a chance to make friends and learn from each other.
“It’s all about solving problems you haven’t seen before,” said team member David Rabaey.
The MHS Math League team has had a successful season this year, and team members will be going to the state competition, which will be held March 12 at South St. Paul High School.
“It’s pretty cool,” team member Alex Gergen said of MHS’ accomplishment. The team won each of the meets they attended this year.
The state competition brings together the top-ranked teams from divisions around the state, as well as the best individual competitors. This year, Marshall team member JP Rabaey will be taking part in an invitational round that includes the highest-scoring students from each regional division, as well the top 50 Math League competitors in the state.
“It’ll be really intense,” Rabaey said.
Math League competitions are made up of both individual events and a team event where students work to solve different types of math problems. The individual events each focus on different branches of mathematics, like trigonometry, geometry, or precalculus, students said. Competitors score points for each correct answer.
While it’s fun to get the right answer to a tough problem, team members said for them, Math League isn’t just about the competition. Team members Rachel Schwarz and Rhyana Juutilainen said working with teammates can show you different ways to approach a problem.
“I got excited about (Math League) in eighth grade,” JP Rabaey said. Being on the math team was a chance to do something competitive in a subject he loved. But, he said, it was also a chance to meet other people with the same interests.
“It’s easier to find other math geeks on the math team,” he said.
Encouraging and bringing together students with skills and interest in math is actually a key part of the Minnesota State High School Mathematics League’s mission, said MHS Math League team adviser Nonna Gutman.
“If we do well at state, that’s a byproduct, really,” Gutman said.
Being on the Math League team also exposes students to a lot of different ideas in math, Gutman said. “It teaches them some things that are not in the school program,” she said.
JP Rabaey said that was one of the things he liked about Math League.
“It gives you more opportunities to be creative, and come up with your own solutions,” he said.
Team member Ammran Mohamed said being part of the Math League team has been a positive experience for her in a couple of ways.
“It’s helped me be better at math,” she said, but she’s also enjoyed getting to know her teammates. After being on the math team, Mohamed said, “When I went to harder math classes, I had friends.”
Mohamed has even recruited MHS students to come join the Math League team. Team members Aolani Hernandez and John Smentek said it was Mohamed who first got them involved.
“Ammran was like, ‘Do you like math?'” Smentek said. When they said yes, Mohamed said she’d see them at the team’s Wednesday practices.
Math League team members said they’re looking forward to the state tournament in a couple weeks. Taking part in a round of competition there is “a big thrill,” David Rabaey said.