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Math counts for Ronan Middle School math team

RONAN — Nine middle school mathematicians sit in a classroom during their lunch break, calculating. Their instructor, Shawn Harris, throws another problem on the screen from her computer, which incites a flurry of activity and scribbling on white boards until one student blurts out an answer. Another disagrees and multiple students comment on the problem until a solution has been reached.

Despite the gorgeous weather beckoning each student outside, the mathematicians are content to spend their lunch hour practicing math problems for Montana MathCounts, a statewide competition for math teams in Bozeman on Wednesday.

After taking second place in chapter competitions in February, Ronan Middle School’s math team qualified to make an appearance at the state competition on Wednesday.

Nine were chosen from the 27 students who vied for a spot on the math team, and only four of those students make up the official team that won in Kalispell. The unofficial team of four students and one alternate competed at the chapter competition in Kalispell also, but used the opportunity to practice.

The official team took second place out of 12 teams in Kalispell and as of Friday, hopes were high for a successful outcome at the state MathCounts competition. Even though the unofficial team won’t attend the state competition, they still come to every practice, challenging and encouraging the official team to do their very best. 

“The unofficial team has been very supportive of the other team. They have come to practices and have helped the other team with problem solving skills,” Harris said. “Many of them will try out next year and hope to get to state again.”

“They are of course disappointed that they can’t make the trip but understand that it is expensive to travel,” she added. 

In Bozeman at Montana State University, the competition will be lined with members of the National Society of Professional Engineers. The engineers sponsor the tournament and take the day off work to talk to the math teams about opportunities and different jobs available in the mathematics and engineering fields.

For the previous four years, Ronan Middle School has not participated in the MathCounts program. However, school administrators deemed it important and started up the program again with Harris in the lead this year.

Harris sees the improvement in the students, not just with their mathematical abilities, but in other academic and social aspects.

The kids on the math team learn how to work as a team and also develop excellent problem solving skills, which assist them across the curriculum.  

“Since math is the language of science, it’s going to improve their ability to do science work,” Harris said. 

Harris adds she sees the math team boosting the confidence of the students involved and says that it is important for girls to participate in the program. 

Many times when girls enter middle school, math and science become unimportant and are considered “boy” subjects, Harris said. 

At the competitions the girl competitors from Ronan are able to mingle with female mathematicians from other schools and meet female engineers, who serve as role models for the students. 

The team has been practicing after school and during lunch since Christmas and all involved are anxious for the state competition.

“I think the MathCounts team will do well at the state competition. They are good mathematicians who have practiced and are ready to go,” Harris said. “I would love to see them take first so that they could go on to nationals and go to Orlando to compete.”

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