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Math Team and the Math Adventure

Aubrey Donsich, Editor

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Walking into Mr. Selvaag’s room on Monday was as exciting as one would think walking into a Math Team practice would be. With shirts sporting the slogan, “Come to the Math Side, we have pi,” Washburn students, grades 9 through 12, disperse throughout the room, holding worksheets and calculators, talking quietly to one another. The relaxed atmosphere is palpable as they prepare for their next meet.

Math Team competes in meets with the bracket consisting of other Minneapolis public high schools. Members compete as a team or as individuals and are tasked with solving certain problems of all difficulties in a specified amount of time. Competition is optional.

With every meet, there are different topics, four different sections that one can choose to do. Two of these are less difficult, more foundational problem, and the remaining two are more advanced.

Forget running laps, Math Team gets your brain sweating.

Three mathletes are called up to the front. They are the reluctant captains, senior Laura Arneson, senior Ella Conover, and senior Leighton Hill. All three girls look less than enthused to be interviewed, whether that is due to their extreme devotion to their club, their frustration with being separated from their work, or their uncaring manners toward supplying information is yet to be seen.

Math Team, one could say, is fairly diverse in its student makeup—students of all grades and math backgrounds gather to share a joy of problem solving and flaunting arithmetic skills. But, is math team just for the numerically adept? Laura Arneson says no, that Math Team is a place for any students interested at all in math, or any student looking to improve in math. Leighton Hill agrees, saying “It’s a new opportunity, even if kids aren’t competitive or confident in math skills.”

Yet, all three captains agree that members should have their basic concepts down. “I came in as a freshman with Algebra 1 basics, and that’s when a lot of freshmen join,” says Arneson. “It’s really about getting better. And with all the new members this year, it’s really grown.”


IMG_3411The three captains also agree on the fact that you really have to enjoy math, or at least want to enjoy it, in order to grasp the advanced concepts.

“We apply what we learn in school,” says Arneson. “Math in here is more fun than the math you do in class. There’s more problem solving and more applicability—more are ‘real world’ problems.” Math Team is capable of improving problem-solving skills, and the much needed ability to guess (ACT and SAT tests, right?).

“Yeah, there aren’t a lot of in-school concepts,” adds Hill. “And, you get to do something competitive that isn’t a sport.”

From these comments, one might conclude that Math Team is exclusive to those willing to essentially “broaden their minds” in terms of math, when many students are content to simply put pencil to paper and do the problem in front of them, formula in hand.

Captain Ella Conover takes a different approach to Math Team: “Math Team is a good way to gauge how you grow in your determination to do things. That is definitely inspiring.” With this comment, Conover gains two serious nods from her colleagues. Conover continues, “The skills we gain aren’t just math. We gain people skills. When members are teaching other members how to do something, you have to recognize that math doesn’t come easy to some people. You have to be the learner and the teacher.”

So, besides helping Washburn students get a better handle on how to apply their math skills, what does Math Team really have to offer?

“It’s a group of people who like math or want to get better, and that’s the purpose of clubs, isn’t it? People coming together who like the same thing?” Arneson says wryly.

“It’s a math adventure!” cries Conover, and is subsequently elbowed in the side by Hill. “We get to know kids from all over the district when we do meets. It’s really important to create a community inside and outside of Washburn.”IMG_3413

“We’ve almost beat Southwest!” Arneson laughs.

“And you get to make friends while learning,” Conover concludes.

These accomplishments are all well and good, but how does one find motivation to join a club that comes heavy with the assumption of being the most boring out of all the club choices at any high school?

The first answer given from all three captains is: “There’s food!”

“It’s not like we’re just sitting there quietly doing math—we’re interacting,” Hill defends.

But that is exactly the impression of math team an average high-school student would have. The challenge for Math Team, as the population of Washburn grows, is making its presence known.  Math Team, according to Conover, aims to change the views on math to appeal to its audience of 9th through 12th graders.

“If we get enough people on board in programs like Math Team, we can change society’s expectation of things that regard math,” she explains. “And, you won’t feel demoralized when you get stuff wrong, because we’re all just learning.”

Conover also suggests changing the title of “Math Team” to something more appealing such as “Math Adventure.”

Her co-captains are not so convinced.

Arneson emphasizes the importance of math in the dubbed “real world” (a phrase used by many a math student frustrated with the seemingly useless concepts).

“Everyone uses math every day; Like, you can’t be anything without numbers. Where would we be without numbers?”

So why the lack of math team awareness and involvement?

Arneson says, “I think a lot of people are scared of math.”

The three captains are not convinced that the Washburn community really understands what Math Team is all about. Yes, math is solved, applied, explained—but the benefits are overtly present in the work.

“We have a bit of an upper hand when it comes to things,” says Conover. “This is math that we don’t see in our classes a lot.”

Arneson continues, “You getIMG_3406 to see yourself improve.”

“Especially from 9th to 12th grade,” adds Hill.

“And, the guessing skills you gain are on fleek,” Conover has to mention.

Math Team has made a huge accomplishment in its most recent meet last Monday, resulting in its one-point gap away from beating Southwest. Clearly, the Washburn community is missing out on some of the greatest team accomplishments of the year.

“It doesn’t matter how smart you are,” Hill declares. “Here, there are all sorts of different people, and we all have the same goal: learn.”

Arneson observes, “As a team, we are getting way better.”

“If you wanted to learn math by yourself, you would not come to Math Team,” says Conover.

Math Team is just one of many of Washburn’s student groups that Washburn needs to shed some light on. These students, mentored by Mr. Selvaag, Mr. Piersma, and each other, are striving to uphold the standards of Math Team as an inclusive, welcoming student group where they all simply want to do some math.  

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Math Team and the Math Adventure