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Middle school math students excel in Blackduck

Eight students at Blackduck High School in grades seven and eight participated in the MATHCOUNTS Competition Series this winter. Photo by Jillian Gandsey.

You can count eight middle school students at Blackduck High School who are particularly interested in math.

All of those students participated in the MATHCOUNTS Competition Series that led up to the State Competition held this past weekend in St. Paul. Eighth-grader Cade Haiby was the only student who took part in the State Competition, qualifying individually; but one team of four came close.

The MATHCOUNTS Competition Series is a non-profit organization that engages middle school students in grades six through eight to become more involved with math.

The Chapter Competition, which is similar to a regional tournament, was held on Feb. 14 in Thief River Falls. Haiby individually placed third out of more than 70 students who competed.

During competitions the eight students are divided into two teams of four. The first team consisted of Nolan Juelson, Kirsten Theisen, Sydnee Stroeing and Haiby. The second team, which placed second in the small schools competition and nearly made it to state, had Ashlynne Nattrass, Andrew Metzler, Kristin Sydow and Jonah Gustafson participating.

“They had an extra spot for another team to go to state but they ended up getting beat out by a different team,” said Jessica Illg, junior high math teacher.

The students met after school on Wednesdays for about an hour and a half to prep for the competitions. They began practicing in early January for the Chapter Competition. To prepare they would do similar drills to what they would see in competitions.

The Chapter and State Competitions consist of four rounds: The sprint round, target round, team round and the countdown round. The sprint round and target round are for individual competitors and the top eight students who participated are sent to the countdown round.

During the sprint round, students are given 30 questions to answer in 40 minutes and they aren’t allowed to use a calculator. In the target round they will receive a sheet of paper with two problems on it, which they have six minutes to answer. They will solve a total of eight problems in that round.

In the team round, groups of four will have 10 problems to solve in 20 minutes. The result of the team round is also based off of a combination of their individual scores. During the countdown round students will compete face-to-face. A question will flash in front of them for 45 seconds and the first to answer it correctly moves forward.

“The questions are not like what you would get in a textbook, it’s not just drill-type questions” Illg said. “It’s more problem-solving questions.”

A typical question from a competition would be something like this:

● The length of the diagonal of rectangle ABCD equals half the rectangle’s perimeter less four-fifths of the length of the shorter side. What is the ratio of the length of the shortest side of the rectangle to the length of its longest side?

According to Haiby the problems become more difficult as students advance in competition. “The questions were harder,” Haiby said of his time at the State Competition. “It took a lot longer to figure them out.”

Illg said that she invites all students to be involved, but they do have to be top math students to participate in MATHCOUNTS.

Jillian Gandsey

Jillian Gandsey is the Multimedia Editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is an Iron Range native and a 2013 graduate of Bemidji State University. Follow Jillian on Twitter and Instagram @jilliangandsey. Contact her at 218-333-9786, 218-996-1216 or at 

(218) 333-9786