The kids on the Mathcounts team are a quiet bunch — until you get them talking about the algebra. This group, made up of the top four finishers at the state-level math competition, will go to nationals in Washington, D.C., on May 10.
“Algebra’s a large part of Mathcounts,” said seventh-grader Srivats Narayanan. “It’s an interesting way to solve problems, excel in math and learn more.”
Mathcounts competitions are open to students in sixth through eighth grades.
Three of the team members attend schools in the Blue Valley School District: Srivats, who goes to Lakewood Middle School; William Wang, a sixth-grader at Harmony Middle School; and Rohit Ramachandran, who’s in seventh grade at Overland Trail Middle School. The first-place finisher in the state was eighth-grader Arvind Subramanian from Frontier Trail Middle School, in the Olathe School District.
The four of them meet on Saturdays to study at Rohit’s house for two hours. His mom, Renuka Lakshmikanthan, is the team’s coach. After they study, the boys do a separate activity, like eating pizza together.
“It’s all fun for them,” said Lakshmikanthan, who is the regular season coach for Overland Trail Middle School’s team.
She gets questions from previous Mathcounts competitions for the kids to use for practice.
Sometimes, Srivat’s brother Shyam, who was at the national Mathcounts competition a few years ago, stops by to give the team pointers and help them learn tricks for problem solving.
The boys are in different levels of math classes at school, but the computations in Mathcounts aren’t like any test you’d get in a regular classroom.
“If I do a problem at home, I get a good score… (but in competition), the stress might cause you to goof up on some problems,” said Rohit.
In a Mathcounts competition, there are several different rounds. There’s one written round for the team competition, then two written rounds and a countdown round for the individual section.
Competitors learn different ways to cut down the time it takes to solve each problem.
After the written rounds, they usually have to wait an hour and a half to find out the scores from the written round and see who has qualified for the countdown round. It’s a tense time.
The countdown round features the top 10 competitors from the written rounds competing in pairs for the best of three questions. For example, the person in 10th place competes against the person in ninth. The winner of that match-up challenges the person in eighth place.
It’s the scariest part of the competition, “especially if you’re in fourth or fifth,” said William, because if you’re in fourth and the fifth-place contender beats you, you lose your spot on the nationals team.
In previous years, that’s just what happened in the countdown round. This year, Rohit was in fourth before that round, but he held onto it and got on the team.
The trick is that you only have a maximum of 45 seconds to answer each question, and if your opponent gets the right answer before you, he or she wins the point.
“If you’re pretty good at math, you can get half of them right, but you have to think more outside the box,” said Rohit.
The techniques they’re learning for problem solving aren’t just for the Mathcounts competition.
“I think it all carries over, even as you get to higher classes,” Srivats said.
“It gives them a stronger foundation in math,” she said. “Some kids get into it and start to do more math.”
In Mathcounts, the competition is fairly fierce, but the kids are friendly competitors. They all go to the other competitions together and some of them take piano and tennis lessons together.
The Kansas team members share a love of video games, particularly ones about basketball or John Madden football. But in the end, it’s the math that brings them together every week.