Ramstein Middle School is at it again, qualifying three students for the national MATHCOUNTS competition. The mathematics program for middle schoolers is an extracurricular activity for several area schools and it’s the fourth year in a row that RMS has qualified at least one person to go to the stateside national gathering.
“Kids start to qualify and it shows other kids who say, ‘Hey, maybe I can do it,’” said Mark Krevalis, who teams with another RMS math instructor, Vinh Mai, to operate MATHCOUNTS through their afterschool math club at the school. “Three of our four participants now have been together for two or more years. They push one another.”
Eighth grader Dylan Keeble, seventh grader Keenan Francisco, and sixth grader Mason Parker all exited the state MATHCOUNTS competition with high honors. The Raytheon MATHCOUNTS National Championship will take place May 14-15 in Orlando, Fla., after last year being staged in Washington DC. A fourth RMS student, Sean Robinson, wound up eighth at state and just missed making the national meet.
“To get someone to nationals is extremely rare,” said 14-year Landstuhl Middle School math instructor Kara Stolee-Kiefer. “One of my goals every year is to get kids to qualify for state competition, which is also a huge recognition that students should really be proud of.” That goal was accomplished when Landstuhl 8th-grader Matthew Legg competed in the state competition earlier this year.
Stolee-Kiefer and Krevalis have both been designated several times by Department of Defense and Dependents Schools as nationals’ coaches, so their students are benefitting from specialized preparation prior to chapter, state, and national events.
“MATHCOUNTS helps me with a lot of extracurricular stuff that I wouldn’t learn in class each day,” said Keeble, who also competed at nationals a year ago with one other RMS student. “Everyone is invited to come on Thursdays after school to the Math Club but only a few students do.” From that after school club, a four-person team is selected to represent each school in the various competitions.
For more than 30 years, MATHCOUNTS has provided enriching, extracurricular opportunities to students as well as free, high-quality resources to educators. Teachers use the materials to ramp up their classroom students and they can differentiate the learning in order to give advanced kids more of a challenge. The program targets middle schoolers who are at a crossroads with deciding how confident they are about learning increasingly tough and new math concepts.
“We push topics,” said Mai, who often joins Krevalis in the school’s cafeteria to offer midday tutoring for students who are struggling in math classes. “We train them on certain math topics and we tell them there will be heavy doses of probability as well as geometry when they get to competitions.”
There are MATHCOUNTS clubs all around the Kaiserslautern educational footprint and throughout DoDDS at most Europe East District schools. Ramstein meets with Landstuhl and other area schools for practice competitions during the short season (February-May) of MATHCOUNTS. They all competed officially at the chapter and district levels to start the season, then state competition was held in March.
There are three parts to the competitions, starting with the Sprint round that features 40 minutes of time to answer 30 questions, which are formatted with free-response answers, no multiple choice, and no calculators. Round two is called the Target round, with eight questions in six-minute sets of two questions at a time. Calculators are allowed for this portion and the final stage is the Team round where all four teammates collaborate to answer questions.
“I wasn’t expecting how long the competitions would be – it gets to be an all-day thing,” said Parker, a gifted first-year RMS student. “MATHCOUNTS has really been fun, though, because I love math. I had never done clubs at school and my mom saw this online, so I signed up.” Parker pointed to the topic of inscribed circles and triangles, where students can use a formula of radius x semiperimeter = area of triangle, as an example of higher-level material and thinking in place at competitions.
“Students will see geometry, trigonometry … they even touch upon calculus at these competitions,” Stolee-Kiefer said, adding that students who attend after school MATHCOUNTS or math club meetings can learn tricks that make problem solving easier. “These are kids who don’t feed numbers into calculators a lot of the time. There is so much mental math that they do. Sometimes you don’t see a lot of work in their papers but they have the right answer.”
Ramstein is the largest school in DoDDS, with over 800 middle school enrollees, but Keeble understands there will be a multitude of contestants at nationals and is keeping his perspective prior to going to Orlando.
“My goal is to place in the top 200 when I go there,” Keeble said. “Last year I wasn’t used to it and I missed out. I think I can do it this year.”