What’s the prize? You do the math

Mike Round’s math problems aren’t as hard as they look.

He insists.

Just get in. Get messing around. Start putting something — anything — onto the spread sheet.

Some high school student (or younger) from the Kansas City area is bound to solve his 10 problems by Dec. 15, he says, and win the $250 first prize he’s putting up out of his own money.

There are three second-place prizes of $150 up for grabs, plus six third-place awards of $50 each.

That’s a total of $1,000 that Round is investing in his long-running quest to inspire more youth to embrace math as a life-enriching tool rather than a chore to be avoided.

He’s not a school teacher, though he’s made plenty of fans among the teaching ranks. Round is an actuary — one of those people who makes a living working with numbers. He doesn’t think of himself as a natural. He’s not some math genius.

Round thinks of himself as a regular guy with perhaps an irregular enthusiasm for problem solving that he has tried to impress on others.

“You see a test where a kid got the answer wrong and you look (in the space provided to solve the problem) and you see nothing there,” Round said. “You need to get something on paper. It doesn’t necessarily need to be an equation.”

He talked with teaching friends over the years and by 2003 he was invited to give presentations at the annual Kansas City Area Teachers of Mathematics conferences. He shared some of his ideas on the kinds of problems and methods that might spur more interest in math.

Over a year ago he started a math club, =EQUALS=, where students, parents, teachers and anyone else who wants to dream up and share anything puzzling meet once a month usually at Olathe East High School.

“It’s for anybody, all ages, all levels of ability,” he said. The aim in both the club and his area-wide contest, he said, is to “look at math from a different perspective, show ways to attack a problem … to open a door for kids who like math and for those who don’t.”

Anyone who wants to take a crack at the test can get it on the =EQUALS= club website at www.rationalsys.com/equalsclub.html, then click on “The Kansas City Math Contest.”

Can student contestants seek help while trying to solve the problems? Of course they can, Round says. But potential winners will have to be able to explain their answers and solve similar problems.

Just get started.