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Ready, set, solve!

[From file. Faisal Ali / The Observer]

EDSS math students had the opportunity to test their wits this week by participating in a series of contests put on by the University of Waterloo. Run on an international level by the university’s Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing, the tests are designed to build off what high school students might already be familiar with, but taken to a new level.

The contests kicked off last Friday with the Canadian Team Mathematics Contest, which served as more of a warm-up for the students. The contest was written by a mixed group of students, some of them experienced contest writers or high-achievers in math, and some newcomers.

“It’s sort of the contest we use to introduce kids to what contest writing could be like,” explained Christine Ruza, head of the EDSS mathematics department, of Friday’s event.

There were no points awarded and no grading, meaning students could relax and have fun while participating in the mix of team problem-solving, a “relay race” – which involves students answering questions as fast as they’re able and passing the answers like a baton to their teammates – and the individual portion of the contest.

The real pit and pith of the series, though, were the contests held this week on Wednesday and Thursday. It’s a competition that’s run on an international scale by the university, asking students from all over Canada and the world to challenge themselves against the best. To do that, the EDSS Math Club started preparing early in the year.

“We have two groups that meet throughout the year,” explains Ruza. “The junior group is the Grade 9s and 10s, so they’ll focus their attention on getting ready for the Grade 9 and 10 contest. Then there’s the senior group which primarily focuses on preparing for the Euclid contest. That’s the one where there’s money attached from the University of Waterloo if you do well.”

The Euclid contest, which is typically meant for Grade 12s, is the toughest of the tough. Last year, more than 21,000 students participated in the Euclid from 1,600 schools. The average score, meanwhile, from 2017 was just 51, while only 52 students were able to score 90 or above.

Bennett Uliana is one of the EDSS students participating in the Euclid test. Asked how he was feeling participating in the notoriously difficult competition, Uliana is upfront.

“Not so good honestly,” he admitted with a laugh. “I’m going to have to review sequences and then we do circle geometry … and that’s not even in our curriculum. So I’m learning entirely new formulas, and it’s not going to be great.”

However, Uliana, who is interested in going into the sciences in his post-secondary studies, points out that even just participating in the event is a great opportunity for him.

Fellow student Cassidy Fiander, meanwhile, was at the Friday event to try her hand at contest writing. The student was getting a 99 per cent in her Grade 12 math course, and her teacher recommended she give it a shot.

“It was good,” says Fiander. “I mean, there’s a lot of stuff I’ve never learned before … but it was pretty good.”

But, win or lose, pass or fail, the contests are ultimately a great way to introduce students to the real essence of mathematics, where questions seldom have clear-cut answers, and the solutions are hard to come by.

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