Mathletes of Decatur flexing their brains

Learning Connections at Decatur High offer students time to explore a wide variety of interests from fashion club, to Model United Nations. For the first time in four years, math teacher John Hudson is bringing back an old club and reviving it into a learning connection. This club enhances the creativity of students, tests their thinking skills, and is a nationally recognized, highly competitive activity. This club is called, math team.

Math team has never been very popular at Decatur High School. There was a team four years ago, but it never caught on. Since then, no one has shown interest in joining or participating in it.

Until now.

After Hudson got his specialist degree this past year, he had more time on his hands to commit to starting the math team up again. He figured that making math team a learning connection would not require as great a time commitment as an after-school club would. In addition, this would allow students who are busy with sports to participate.

At first, Hudson was nervous. He didn’t believe anyone would sign up or show interest in the club. This, however, was not the case.

“People just signed up, and I was kind of surprised,” Hudson said. “ I thought we would have nobody, but we actually had people who wanted to participate.”

Freshman Nathan Tumperi did not know what to expect when he signed up for the team.

“I thought it would just be a lot of nerds working on a bunch of hard math problems that I wouldn’t know how to do,” Tumperi said. “I quickly discovered that it was really a group of people working on tricky math problems together and discussing them as a group.”

The common misconception that people might have about the math team is that only students who are particularly mathematically skilled can participate. On the contrary, Hudson focuses on the benefits and the learning opportunity math team offers.

“I’m taking an approach that even a kid who is in a low level math class can benefit from [this club],” Hudson said. “I want people to come have fun with it.”

Math Club helps build confidence in any level of math student.

“It’s just cool to see a kid do something that they didn’t think they could do before,” Hudson said.

The math team also prepares students for challenges they will face in their academic future.

“It looks really awesome on your college application, and you also get the practice,” Hudson said. “If you are going to ace your SAT, then the more practice you have solving tricky problems, the better you perform.”

There are currently only six members in the math team. As small as that may seem, it is a step up from having no participants in the past years. In fact, when the club started at the beginning of the year there were even fewer participants than there are now.

The team is comprised of four boys and two girls. This ratio is not uncommon in the world of mathematics.

Men overwhelmingly populate math competitions; in fact, it wasn’t until 1998, that the first girl, Melanie Wood, competed as a member on the United States Mathematics Team. The United States lags comparatively behind other countries in its number of women participating in math competitions. In data from 2008, it was shown that Bulgaria, a smaller country, has sent 21 girls to the International Olympiad since 1959, in contrast to the two girls sent from the United States since 1998.

Hudson recognizes the challenges that Decatur will face with having such a small math team, but he doesn’t believe this should be a reason to get discouraged.

“It’s not very likely that Decatur is going to win a lot of prizes, because we have such a small group and there are not enough kids focused on turning the club into a great thing,” Hudson said. “However, that doesn’t mean it is not something worth doing and participating in. I think you can benefit from the experience math team brings to you, so that’s what we are doing.”

Tumperi doesn’t mind the size of the math team.

“It would be fun to have eight or ten people in it, but I like it small,” Tumperi said. “With a smaller group we get to discuss a lot more than we would with a class-sized group”

Freshman Rushabh Shah, also a member of the math team, disagrees.

“More people would be nice and would help us be more competitive,” Shah said.

Every time math team convenes, students work together to solve and play around with different math puzzles. These activities are representative of the types of problems students are faced with during math competitions.

To prepare the math team for competitions, Hudson uses practice tests released online by Mensa, the world’s largest and oldest high IQ society. He uses puzzle books to test the members, as well as math competition problems that he gets from math site, Khan Academy’s website.

“The problems that you do for a math competition are like puzzles,” Hudson said. “When you solve them, most of the time you are not allowed a calculator, because it is not something that requires that type of math skill- it is more like, ‘what is the twist I need to find in order to figure this out?’”

Hudson likes this aspect of math team.

“If someone writes a novel and composes a song, everybody knows that’s a creative thing, but if you can figure out a new way to do a problem, I think that also [leads you down] a highly creative path,” Hudson said.

These types of problems require students to really dissect the different approaches needed to find a solution, as well as teach students to look at problems through different angles.

“I really like to do the problems, they require you to think outside the box,” Shah said.

The team is currently preparing for their first math competition at Georgia Tech, which will be held on March 9. The team received $200 from the Decatur Education Foundation to pay for the cost of the competition.

Since this will be everyone’s first time competing, members of the math team don’t know what to expect.

“All I’ve heard is that we get free lunch, so that’s always a positive,” Tumperi said. “I just really want to go and see how well I can compete against students from other schools.”

The competition consists of three tests – multiple choice, ciphering and proof-based exams. The multiple-choice test allots students 90 minutes in order to answer 30 questions. Ciphering offers students three minutes to answer each question in a 10-question compilation. The top 20 percent of the students will then take the proof-based exam, which entails a set of at least five proof questions. The top five teams and the top 10 individuals are awarded trophies. There will be around 100 to 150 students attending the competition.

Hudson is not permitted to aid the students in any way.

“I just sit there and encourage them,” Hudson said. “I’m sort of the cheerleader.”

Hudson prepares the members by helping them learn how to approach challenging problems in simpler ways, and encouraging them to solve things independently

“Hudson is a good leader for this because he lets us as the students, lead ourselves in finding the answers to problems, instead of teaching us exactly what to do,” Tumperi said.

Hudson is very ecstatic for the competition and proud of the students for participating.

“I mean, think about it,” Hudson said. “We are asking them to give up a Saturday to go take a math test, and kids think that’s cool. How awesome is that?”

This competition is a milestone for the math team and Decatur High’s mathematical activities. The success of this year’s math team might help reel in more people for next year, helping the club to develop.

“I would like the club to expand and grow to be better. We are trying to provide an opportunity for kids to see what they can do,” Hudson said.

If you are interested in joining the math team, please talk to Mr. Hudson, room 304.