Suppose that two middle schools and an elementary school hosted 600 students who were competing in a math tournament on five-member teams. One middle school hosted 12 fewer teams than did the other two schools. How many students competed at the elementary school?
That problem would be a breeze for many of the students who took part in the second annual Loudoun County Regional Math Tournament on March 7.
Tournament organizer Karen Cornfeld of Ashburn said that about 600 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from schools across Loudoun competed in the event, which was run simultaneously at the three schools. Dominion Trail Elementary School and Farmwell Station Middle School each hosted 44 teams, and River Bend Middle School had 32 teams, Cornfeld said in an e-mail.
She said she started the tournament as a way to get students excited about math. Cornfeld had been coaching her son Andrew’s math team at Dominion Trail since 2012 and thought that a tournament would help spark the students’ enthusiasm.
“I compare it to a sports team, where you have your regular season and you might have a tournament at the end,” she said in an interview. “I was interested in taking a team to a tournament, but there were no tournaments locally.”
Cornfeld organized the first tournament last year and publicized it to schools across Loudoun. About 72 teams competed at Dominion Trail and Farmwell Station last year, she said.
This year, with a larger field of 120 teams, River Bend was added as a tournament site. Two educational services businesses provided support: Fairfax Collegiate helped sponsor the event, and Math Olympiads supplied the math problems for a fee, Cornfeld said.
The tournament began with an individual competition at each site. Students worked alone to answer 10 problems, some of which were similar to the one posed above.
There was a two-way tie for first place at both Dominion Trail and Farmwell Station. To break the tie, the top two contestants met in a playoff round, and the first student to answer the question correctly was declared the winner.
Grant Xiao, 10, a fifth-grader at Newton-Lee Elementary School, and Praneeth Malyala, 11, a sixth-grader at Farmwell Station, won the runoffs at Dominion Trail and Farmwell Station, respectively. River Bend did not have individual winners, Cornfeld said. Individual scores were rolled into the team standings at all three locations, but River Bend chose not to award additional trophies to individuals.
In the team portion of competition, students had 20 minutes to work together to solve 10 more problems. The answer sheets were then collected and tabulated.
After a lunch break, with the contestants and their coaches and parents cheering at Dominion Trail, the winning teams from each location were announced. Team Divide and Conquer from Rosa Lee Carter Elementary won at Dominion Trail; the Nerd Herd from Creighton’s Corner Elementary took first place at River Bend; and 5 Stars, an Ashburn neighborhood team, was the top team at Farmwell Station.
Lauren Johnson, a third-grade teacher at Dominion Trail, said the competition helps inspire students to learn about math.
“In the classroom, they’re not competing against anyone else unless you make it a game,” said Johnson, who coaches two math teams at the school. “Working as a team against other schools, it’s more like a high school environment in a way, like a sports team.
“And it is set up like a sports team, so the kids who aren’t involved in sports have their own little sports team,” she added.
Arihan Dixit, 10, a fourth-grade student at Creighton’s Corner, said that the tournament was “a really nice first experience” and that he liked trying to solve the problems.
“They were really challenging, so they made you stretch your brain,” he said. “You had to try different things and maybe work backward and use reasoning.”
Arihan said he enjoyed working as part of a team, “because you could . . . talk to the smarter people on your team, and you could get other people’s views on the problem and how they thought, to solve it.”
And when there were disagreements among team members?
“We would rule out things that were obviously wrong and then maybe work over the problem as a team together again,” he said. ”And then we would usually come to one answer.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.