BY ANGIE JACKSON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Thirty math-hungry East Middle School students recently made history.
The group of seventh- and eighth-graders was the first at the school to achieve national gold level status for a club called MathCounts. MathCounts is a national initiative for middle school students designed with a goal of inspiring future engineers. The team collectively solved five challenges proposed by the organization.
Students smiled and cheered in the cafeteria last week as they received a banner and trophy. Later, they dug into brownies and ice cream.
The team met after school, during lunch and during resource period from November to Spring Break and tackled math problems embedded in real-world situations, such as how much solar energy would be needed to power a space station's electricity.
Seventh-grader Abby Puckett was one of four East Middle School students who scored third in a regional MathCounts competition. She liked the club's camaraderie.
"It was just really fun to work together with a bunch of new people. Some people won’t expect math to be really fun, but it made math fun," Puckett said.
MathCounts coach and eighth-grade math teacher Robert Sagan offered guidance, then stepped back and let the students problem-solve. He watched them grow in their ability to ask questions and collaborate. The "spark plugs" of the group led an effort to create study guides to prepare for a separate test students took individually.
"These kids had so much momentum," Sagan said. "They put a lot into this."
Creating the study guides challenged eighth-grader Charles McGuire. He learned from his peers.
"I liked being able to meet new people and learn how they actually did math. It was really nice to actually interact with other people rather than just being in a classroom setting," McGuire said.
Sagan said the group is the first in Grand Traverse County and among 240 middle schools in the nation to receive the designation from MathCounts.