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2009 Thanksgiving Tournament a Great Success

 - Alex Zivkovic, University High School, Class of 2013

To celebrate Thanksgiving, most people meet with their families, sit around a table and eat a bountiful meal. Two days after the big holiday, Thanksgiving was celebrated in a different way. One that to most of the populace would be unpleasant, but to certain people, was one to be enjoyed.

This big event was the first annual Thanksgiving Tournament, a competition of large proportions, with an attendance of over one hundred elementary school students. From early morning to noon, students engaged in rigorous competition, vying for a prize. In between rounds, students talked amongst each other sharing the joy of the day. Nothing was out of the ordinary for a typical holiday event.

But, did I mention that this was a math competition?

Yes it is true, the first annual Thanksgiving Tournament was actually a math competition held by the Orange County Math Circle. And yes it is true that all of the competitors did actually have fun doing math at the event!

A love for math is one that is not readily understood by the general public, but was one that every competitor held and cherished. Students in grades 3 through 6 participated, voluntarily, in three rounds of competition.

2009 Thanksgiving Tournament Exam

The first round, known as a “sprint round,” consisted of a 30 multiple choice question test, which students had 40 minutes to answer. The next round was the “target round,” and was a 24 minute round which consisted of eight challenging questions, with each carrying double the points of a sprint round question. Students’ results on these two rounds were combined, and ultimately decided what awards the students would get.

Despite being multiple choice, the first round was not supposed to be easy. Third and fourth graders took one set of tests, while fifth and sixth graders took another. However, students only competed against people of their own grade level.

Questions on the first round were intended to be answered quickly, but required a deep understanding of problem solving and an ability to apply basic, school-taught concepts to harder, more challenging problems.

In between rounds, students’ faces reflected how they believe they did on the test. When asked how hard they thought the test was, students responded with a range of answers. Some students said it was “very hard”, while one sixth grader remarked that it was “totally easy”. Others were unsure, like third grader Cole Ellison who used only neutral words like “good” and “okay” to describe his feelings toward it. Ultimately, this third grader from Wagon Wheel Elementary did more than okay, getting fourth place in the third grade competition.

Though many lacked confidence about how they did, others blatantly stated that they “probably got a 29 at least”. Some students felt discouraged after doing, what they believe, was a poor job on the test. However, many regained confidence during the second round, which several people believed to be easier since students were alloted three minutes per question.

2009 Thanksgiving Tournament Relay

After the first two rounds were finished, the final round approached. The only round that did not count for the overall awards, this final event was a relay race, in which teams of about 10 students competed head to head against one another in an effort to win a bucket of candy. A group of students lined up on one side of the field, and on the other were Orange County Math Circle volunteers who would flip over mental-math questions for one student per team to run up and solve.

After giving an answer, the students run back to the team, tagging the next person to go and try and answer the next question. If the answer the previous student said was incorrect, then the team would continue to answer that question until somebody got it right. The winner of this round was the first team to finish all 10 of the questions.

Parents and volunteers cheered the students as they pushed themselves mentally and physically. Upon the completion of the relay round, parents and students were called inside for the award ceremony.

Medals were given for fourth through sixth place per grade level, while the top three received trophies. When some students were called up to receive their prize, their faces reflected shock, thinking that they had instead done poorly on the exam. A fourth grader from Turtle Rock Elementary, Jiyun Park, received the only perfect score in the entire competition, an impressive feat for a tricky test such as this. Whether or not they went home with an award, students left this day full of joy for the fun that they had experienced during the day’s events.

2009 Thanksgiving Tournament Awards

For many students, especially those in third grade, this was the first taste of a math competition. However, others had taken other competitions in the past, and expressed that they had thoroughly enjoyed them all. Either way, events like these are important for students to experience.

As a fellow math enthusiast, I understand the necessity of having support from those around you in order to explore your love for math. Opportunities like this are crucial for the development for today’s youth, since their admiration for the field of mathematics is only nurtured by being around others like them. Events like these not only challenge bright youth, but also allow young students to discuss mathematics with their peers.

With more intellectual stimulus, students begin to learn new methods of approaching a problem. Hopefully competitions like this will encourage this problem solving skill to develop in more people, which they can then apply to any number of issues that they face in the future.

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