Math Madness grips Spring Lake Park High School

Spring Lake Park High School teachers and students were glued to their screens, waiting to see which team would score more points, monitoring schools’ records and players’ rankings.

Mason Owens, a sophomore at Spring Lake Park High School, participates in the national Math Madness competition Dec. 5. Owens was one of 46 SLP students that faced off against Glenbrook North High School of Northbrook, Ill. The Panthers fell to the Spartans by 0.6 points. Photo by Olivia Koester

Mason Owens, a sophomore at Spring Lake Park High School, participates in the national Math Madness competition Dec. 5. Owens was one of 46 SLP students that faced off against Glenbrook North High School of Northbrook, Ill. The Panthers fell to the Spartans by 0.6 points. Photo by Olivia Koester

They weren’t following athletic play; they were tuned in to Math Madness, an online competition modeled after the March Madness college basketball tournament.

For Michael Hilst and Tom Young, co-coaches of the math team, and their students, formulas are every bit as exciting as free throws.

In the inaugural Math Madness tournament this fall, Spring Lake Park reached the Sweet Sixteen level of competition, ending its run for the national championship Dec. 5 against Glenbrook North High School of Northbrook, Ill.

In each round of Math Madness, students were asked to complete a 10-question online test with 30 minutes on the clock.

The questions touched on everything from algebra to geometry, covering material up to calculus coursework.

Hundreds of schools across the nation and more than 12,000 students competed in Math Madness. The preseason began in October and tournament play began in mid-November.

The top 64 teams in each of the six divisions were allowed to compete. Participation rates determined in which division a school competed.

With more than 30 students regularly electing to crunch numbers after school on Thursdays, Spring Lake Park found its home in Division IV, where the top 20 students’ scores are averaged for a final tally.

About half of the students who competed in Math Madness participate on the math team, too, Young said, emphasizing the distinction between math team and Math Madness.

Math team has regular practices year round. Math Madness is not as big of a commitment. Students can test every week or whenever their schedules allow it. There are no practices and even though students compete with schools across the U.S., they do so from SLP, so there is no activity fee required to cover busing.

The competition begins

In the first round of competition, the Panthers faced Freedom Academy from Provo, Utah.

Before competing, students scouted Freedom Academy online to discover it is a growing school, only enrolling through ninth grade this year. With many upperclassmen on their team, SLP students were confident, according to Young.

Their confidence served them well as they sprang to an easy 4.75-2.95 victory.

Next, the Panthers took on Chugiak High School, Ala., in a tough round, only scoring 2.95 points. It was enough to outdo Chugiak, which scored 2.7 points.

When 46 students showed up to compete against Glenbrook, no computer lab would have been large enough to house them, according to Hilst. “It’s a good use of our new iPad technology,” he said as students crowded into two math classrooms to test at their desks.

Going into the Sweet Sixteen round, Glenbrook boasted three students in the top 1,000 test-takers. Spring Lake Park’s Kevin Moonen, a freshmen, was on the list, too.

Math Team Captain Sarah Fetter, a senior, did not pay too much attention to rankings, but “I have some friends who were definitely researching everything about the other school,” she said.

Young watched Glenbrook closely. While making dinner one night, he saw the team begin their test, the same one SLP would take later that week. “I kept saying to myself, ‘Don’t get five,’” he said.

They didn’t, but they came close, posting a score of 4.9.

“Strive for five!” SLP students yelled before beginning the final contest. Students knew instantly whether they answered a question correctly.

Young and Hilst watched the school’s results come in live from the hallway. The score stopped growing at 4.3 when time was up.

“Awesome showing,” Young said, signaling the end of the test-taking period. “You gave them a run!” he told students, who were still smiling after their defeat.

Zach Deiman, a freshmen, was the high scorer for SLP Dec. 5 answering seven questions correctly. He hopes to pursue mathematics after graduation. “If there’s a problem [and] I don’t know how to solve it, I’m interested in learning how to solve it someday,” he said.

It’s the enthusiasm and the high levels of participation that make Young a fan of the new Math Madness tournament.

“It’s fun to see 46 kids excited about math,” he said.

To learn more about Math Madness, visit http://in-ter-stel-lar.com/math_madness/about.

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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