Friday, August 28, 2015         

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Washington Middle kids win statewide math contest

By Mary Vorsino


Public school students beat their peers from private schools this month at the statewide MathCounts competition to make the team that will represent Hawaii at the national competition.

It was the first time since 1984 that an all-public school team from Hawaii is going to the MathCounts nationals, arithmetic's equivalent to the National Spelling Bee.

Ethan Vo and David Chang of Washington Middle School won first and second place, respectively, at the state competition and will travel to Washington, D.C., in May to represent Hawaii in national competition.


Mark Sellke of West Lafayette, Ind., answered the following problem in less than 45 seconds to win last year's MathCounts national competition:

"To play the following game, you start with $1. With each move, you can either double your money or add $1 to it. What is the smallest number of moves you have to make to get to exactly $200?"

Answer: Nine moves.

Go to for more information and sample questions.

Also on the team headed to the nationals are Julius Balagso of Highlands Intermediate in Pearl City, who came in third, and Wai­akea Intermediate student Junhao Li, who placed fourth.

Public schools also took the top two spots in the team categories: Washington Middle earned first place, followed by Highlands Intermediate. Punahou School came in third and 'Iolani School took fourth place.

Sung Park, the math coach at Washington Middle, said his students were able to do well thanks to lots of hard work.

There's a banner on a wall in Park's classroom that reads, "Practice. It does make a difference." Park lives by that mantra and tells his students to do the same.

Washington's "math­letes" meet every day, and students sometimes stay as late as 5:30 p.m.

"It's like their second home," Park said. "It is hard but we work together."

MathCounts is an opportunity for middle school students from around the country to show off their numbers prowess.

They answer questions such as, "If Kenton walks for 60 minutes at the rate of 3 mph and then runs for 15 minutes at the rate of 8 mph, how many miles will he travel?" (Answer: 5.)

The questions are tough enough, said Park, that even he sometimes has to sit down and work them out on the first go-round.

Park, who began teaching at Washington Middle six years ago, has led the school to top spots at the statewide MathCounts competition since 2007.

He said it feels good to see his students do so well up against their peers in public and private schools.

Ethan, the first-place winner at the statewide competition March 5, said he enjoys math because there's "really only one answer" to questions.

Ethan also placed first in the statewide competition last year and came in 121st in the national competition. His goal is to be in the top 10 this year at the nationals.

But Ethan added that he doesn't worry much about where he places. "It's more about doing your best than doing better than others," the 13-year-old said.

Ethan isn't too sure about what he wants to be when he's older, but is thinking about going into medicine.

Next year he'll be a freshman at 'Iolani.

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