Hockaday Hosts Annual Math Competition

Students and teachers collaborated in preparation for the Metroplex Math Competition that the school hosted for the first time

Most students who attend math competitions don’t think about who struggles to write the ques­tions. Instead, they struggle to answer them.

During first semester, Hockaday Math Club mem­bers and the Math Department wrestled with the writing per­spective, formulating competi­tion questions in preparation for the annual Metroplex Math Competition on Jan. 18.

One hundred ten students from local Dallas private and public schools, including Cis­tercian, Greenhill, St. Mark’s and Ursuline, participated—an increase from the 57 students who competed last year at Par­ish. As hosts, Hockaday stu­dents were not allowed to enter the competition.

This was the first time Hockaday hosted the competi­tion. Hosting required months of organizing the competition as well as creating and compil­ing new competition problems.

On competition day, Hock­aday Math Club members and math teachers provided direc­tions to rooms, proctored ses­sions and graded tests.

Upper School math teacher and Math Club coach Jessica Chu, with the help of Upper School math teacher Rachel Grabow, took charge of orga­nizing this year’s competition.

William Song, a Cister­cian junior, said that the com­petition “ran very smoothly. The proctors were on top of things.”

Clara Ann Nor­man, a St. Mark’s math teacher and Math Club coach, agreed with Song, noting that “the planners left no detail to chance. Participants were given maps, de­tailed instructions and spaces to meet.”

The Metroplex Math Competition cov­ers a variety of math topics: Algebra I, Ge­ometry, Algebra II, Precalculus and Cal­culus. Each individual is allowed to take two 45-minute subject tests with the option to take the tests either open (meaning the student has com­pleted a full year of the subject) or closed (meaning the student is currently enrolled in the course at school).

“It’s hard to come up with questions that someone has not come up with before,” Chu said. In fact, the writing process re­quired students and teachers to “think out of the box,” she said. “We took the basic ideas from other problems but changed the numbers and sometimes the meanings,” junior Mary Zhong said. “The solution is based on the same theorem, or fact, but the problem is different.”

However, while they emulated a wide variety of past prob­lems, the students and teachers were creative as well. “We tried our best to be original and add different prob­lem solving elements,” Chu said.

While writing questions, the stu­dents kept in mind the quality of the com­petition problems.

“We wanted to im­prove on the variety of questions and the dif­ficulty level, to make the questions chal­lenging for students but not almost impossible,” Zhong said.

Junior Sarah Zhou added that they wanted the ques­tions more “math competition geared” and not simply “a test of what you learned at school.”

Zhou, who has never writ­ten or compiled math problems before, found the competition to be a learning experience. “It’s interesting to see what goes into ranking a test from easy to hard and choosing problems you think are fit for the subject or level of difficulty,” she said.

Chu, who never had the op­portunity to write math compe­tition problems in high school, agreed. “The girls had quality discussions about whether a question was too easy or too hard,” she said. “They also talked about which concepts a question would cover to see which test it fit best.”

In addition to writing and categorizing questions, stu­dents also revised and solved the problems.

Those who attended the competition were quite im­pressed with the quality of the competition questions. “There was a nice balance of types of questions,” Norman said. “The questions included abstract as well as numerical topics and also gave varied opportunities for problem solving.”

Song agreed, noting that he particularly enjoyed the problems that were “simple yet challenging.” He added that he especially liked the last ques­tion of the team round, “which asked us to cut up some imagi­nary cake.”

Because every host school hosts the competition two years in a row, Hockaday will host the competition again next year. In the past 11 years of the com­petition’s running, St. Mark’s, Greenhill, Cistercian, Oakridge and Parish have hosted. “The idea behind different schools hosting the competition is so that we have a wide range of questions,” Chu explained.

In the team round of the competition, Cistercian placed first, St. Mark’s placed second and Dallas Engineer­ing and Science Magnet School placed third.

In previous years, Hocka­day has routinely placed top in the competition. Unfortunately, hosting the Metroplex Math Competition means Hockaday students cannot compete for two years in a row.

Although Zhong does ac­knowledge this downside, she finds the competition to be a “very valuable experience for us to learn exactly what goes into planning for and running a competition like this, and to help proctor, help compile questions, help grade.”

Norman concurred that the competition had a positive impact. She felt that the com­petition served as a time for both focused competition and comradeship. “I took away a strengthened sense of the com­munity of talented students and teachers,” she said.

– Catherine Jiang