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World Series of Math
by Garrett Valenzuela
May 11, 2013 | 3987 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela — Clockwise from top left, Sparks residents and Northern Nevada Regional Math Club members Dylan Hildebrand, Sarah Griffin, Christopher Griffin and Conor Burchett are busy preparing for the national finals of the American Regions Mathematics League in Las Vegas.
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela — Clockwise from top left, Sparks residents and Northern Nevada Regional Math Club members Dylan Hildebrand, Sarah Griffin, Christopher Griffin and Conor Burchett are busy preparing for the national finals of the American Regions Mathematics League in Las Vegas.
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SPARKS — The American Regions Mathematics League (ARML) considers itself the “World Series of mathematics competitions,” and students from the Sparks area won’t have to wait until October to step into the spotlight of the big stage.

Northern Nevada has assembled its first 15-person team from the Reno-Sparks area to compete at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for the annual ARML competition at the end of the month. Six students from Sparks will team with others from Reno in the Northern Nevada Regional Math Club to take on more than 120 teams and 2,000 students from around the country.

Sparks resident and Bishop Manogue High School senior Christopher Griffin has competed at ARML twice and said bringing a full team, largely made up of newcomers, will add some surprises to their arrival in Las Vegas.

“I think the team will be surprised by how serious the competition is,” Griffin said. “Most competitions they don’t just lock you in a room and wait for you to finish. They leave you there and let you do your own thing. The rounds are different in the way you see them and they are not that similar to other competitions our kids may have been to.”

The ARML competition will have the northern Nevada team working through five mathematic-based events, allowing them to work together collectively to solve each problem, with the exception of one individual round. Dylan Hildebrand, Sparks resident and Davidson Academy student, said the development of the team’s chemistry during the past few months of weekly practice sessions will give them an edge at the competition.

“The team round is really strong because we can all get into our little groups and we have people who are good in different topics. So we can bounce ideas off one another to solve it,” Hildebrand said. “It also helps us make sure that no one person is going to make a mistake and answer incorrectly. It helps reduce the arithmetic errors by having a team of support.”

Hildebrand and Griffin agreed the type of questioning at ARML has taken some adjustment from their typical day in math class. Griffin called the problems “obscure” and added that they will not be “as simple as solve for X.”

“Textbook problems are there to teach you already established concepts,” Hildebrand said. “But the problems we will face don’t always have a clear solution or formula to use because there are several ways you can solve the problem.”

Among the six students competing from the Sparks area is 12-year-old Sarah Griffin, who also happens to be the youngest member of the team. She said it’s inspiring being the youngest member of the team and added that the diversity of the team keeps her comfortable working with the older students as well as the younger ones.

“I like seeing that there are more kids my age in and seeing more girls in it too,” she said. “It is not just boys and one girl so it has been nice to have more kids like me on the team. I am really looking forward to working with everyone and becoming friends with everyone.”

Sparks resident and current Wooster High School student Conor Burchett said he plans to be a member of the team for years to come and is most excited about seeing the format of the competition and getting a feel for it before he takes a bigger role on the team. He said the practice problems have kept him on his toes and said they will have him collaborating with his teammates to solve them.

“I am the top of my class in geometry, but I am stumped by most of these problems,” Burchett said. “So I can help work on some of the easier problems while these guys work on the harder ones. The type of problems we face are not the kind I am used to. I am stuck with the very typical ‘this is how you do it’ type of problems so the practice problems we have studied are challenging for me.”

While the Northern Nevada Regional Math Club will compete in Las Vegas, three other spots will be used for regional meetings including Penn State, the University of Georgia and the University of Iowa. The ARML competition score is used on college applications to math-centric universities making the two-day event crucial for students seeking careers in mathematics.

Team organizer Sherry Griffin said it has been a slow development getting more schools involved in the competition. Recruiting new members has largely come from a word-of-mouth process. Finally, establishing a full 15-person team was a major step, but more work remains for the regional club.

“A lot of people really don’t know what it is and this is the first time we have gotten a lot of different schools involved,” Sherry said. “Kids from newer schools have come on and I have found all these kids through avenues other than the schools. It’s all about constantly mentioning it to parents.

“My long-term goal is to take three different teams from here to represent all of the different schools. It is going to take a while, but we will get there.”

Photo Cutline: (From left to right) Sparks residents and Northern Nevada Regional Math Club members Conor Burchett, Dylan Hildebrand, Sarah Griffin and Christopher Griffin are busy preparing for the national finals of the American Regions Mathematics League in Las Vegas.

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