Just before noon Monday, more than 130 area middle school students — pencils in hand — set out to answer 30 questions in 40 minutes in the first round of of the Northwest Wisconsin Regional MathCounts competition.
Known as the Sprint Round, it was the first of four planned for Monday, and its focus was on speed and accuracy.
The youth — from 13 different schools, including host site South Middle School — could use paper to figure their answers, but calculators or other devices weren’t allowed.
“Remember, you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t good at this stuff,” John Genskow told the “Mathletes” sitting in front of them.
The MathCounts Competition Series is a national program that provides students the opportunity to compete in live, in-person math contests against and alongside their peers. Created in 1983, it is the longest-running MathCounts program and is open to all sixth, seventh- and eighth-grade students.
There are four levels of competition — school, chapter, state and national.
Hosted by the Northwest Chapter of the Wisconsin Society of Professional Engineers, the competition at South included students from 13 middle schools in west-central and western Wisconsin, along with their coaches and volunteers from area engineering firms and industries with professional engineers on staff. Xcel Energy facilities in the Chippewa Valley sponsored the event.
“Even in today’s world, with computers and cellphones, there is still a need to do math,” said Brad Volker, a civil engineer and project manager for Cooper Engineering Co. in Rice Lake.
Mathematical methods find use in a number of industries, including business, computer science, engineering and science, so it’s important to know “high-end math,” he said.
Genskow, who recently retired from the city of Eau Claire, where he was employed as deputy city engineer, encouraged students to enter the field.
During the competition, students might encounter questions like:
• What is the sum of the prime factors of 210?
• Mary is 7 years older than her sister. In three years, Mary will be twice as old as her sister will be. In years, how old is Mary?
• If the length of a rectangle is increased by 30 percent and its width is decreased by 20 percent, by what percentage is the area increased?
“You can really see their minds working,” said Genskow, who has been involved in MathCounts for at least a decade and has served as the event’s proctor since 2012.
Three more rounds were to follow:
• Target: Students were given eight problems in four pairs, and they had six minutes to complete each pair. Calculators could be used.
• Team: The four students on the school’s team competed in this round, and they had 10 problems and 20 minutes. Calculators also could be used in this round.
• Countdown: The top 10 students with the highest scores in the Sprint and Target rounds competed head to head. There was a maximum of 45 seconds per problem, and no calculators could be used.
Before the start of the competition Monday, Eliza Clack, a sixth-grader from Altoona Middle School, said she expected “to do pretty good.”
“I like math,” she said. “It’s just fun to solve the problems.”
Damian Gray, a Menomonie Middle School student, couldn’t agree more.
“I like solving problems, and the challenge (of doing so) makes it fun,” said Gray, who was involved in MathCounts last year but didn’t make it this far.” (There are four levels of competition — school, chapter (regionals), state and national.)
“I hope to win today, but I’m in seventh grade, and I only know so much,” he said. “There are a lot of kids here that are better at math than me.”
The top students from the competition were to advance to the state competition, which will be held in March in Sheboygan, Volker said. The top mathletes from the state competition will go on to nationals.
Results of Monday’s competition were unavailable at press time.