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Young math whizzes compete in problem-solving at annual event
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Fourth-graders Weston Sinnett and Garrison Skipper went back and forth for third place Saturday at the Math Mania competition at Mount Vernon Elementary School. Sardis Elementary principal Neil Yarrington consoles Weston as Garrison celebrates his third-place showing. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Caleb Hill, a fourth-grader at Wauka Mountain Multiple Intelligences Academy enjoys solving problems using multiplication and decimals.

Saturday he was in “math heaven,” competing against fellow fourth-graders from around the county while other grade-level students competed in the second annual Math Mania competition at Mount Vernon Exploratory School.

An estimated 225 students, ranging from first-to-fifth-grade, took part representing five schools: Chattahoochee Christian School, Lanier Elementary School, Mount Vernon, Sardis Enrichment School and Wauka Mountain.

Hill, the fourth-grade winner, said his mom is really good at math and he thinks that’s where he gets his love of the subject.

“I liked how we got to compete with everybody and I got to do what my favorite thing was,” he said.

Students started with six sticky notes in front of them, answering questions chosen by Cody Chembars, a co-organizer of the competition and fifth-grade math teacher at Mount Vernon, off a sheet in front of them. The questions came from the University of North Georgia Education Department, so no team had an unfair advantage, Chembars said.

They wrote their answers on dry-erase boards, having roughly one to two minutes to answer each question, depending on its difficulty.

If they answered the question correctly, they kept their sticky notes. If not, one was taken away for each wrong answer. Once all six sticky notes were gone, the student was out of the competition.

A session lasted roughly an hour and a half to crown a winner at most grade levels, including tight races for the third-place finisher of the fourth-grade competition. The fifth-grade winner was also a tight battle, eventually won by Roman Yaskulka of Mount Vernon.

Hill’s stepfather, Shane Blackstock, called the competition “awesome” for his stepson and the others competing.

“Caleb is always trying to get us to solve problems,” he said. “He asked me to give him a high math problem and he’ll sit there and solve it. He’s a super smart kid. This competition gives them something to look forward to.”

Over time, the difficulty level went up, so fifth-graders were answering sixth-grade questions by the end of the competition, while fourth-graders answered fifth-grade questions.

Students were not allowed to use calculators and had to work out problems by thinking about what formula or strategy to use.

“It felt successful,” Chembars said. “Like I said, last year, there’s nothing like this offered (around here). Parents and students, we want them to be excited about math and want them to be able to compete worldwide in mathematics.”

Questions during the competition were checked by teacher volunteers from participating schools.

Chembars said it was an “overwhelming feeling” and a “joy” to have the teachers help make Math Mania a reality.

“This competition offered a chance for students who might not excel in sports, they can excel in academics,” Chembars said. “I think that’s the crucial part. They have the chance to shine, where as they might not shine on the football field or a baseball field.

“This (the competition) was one of those sweet moments of victory. You get to experience and see all the hard work that you put in (as a teacher), through lesson plans and teaching, come to fruition. And the students are able to excel because of something you did for them.”

Third-grade winner Ellie Wingate of Mount Vernon said her favorite part of the competition was division. She said the “fifth-grade stuff” was tough, but she was proud of how she did.

“I was really excited and nervous,” she said after the victory.

“Ellie has always loved math,” said her mother, Julie Wingate. “Even when was little. She was super young and she was always excited about it, so, she loves this. ... I want her to know that if she puts her mind to it, there’s nothing she can’t do. Math really helps her to do that. I’ve noticed her confidence has improved and she sees the world in a different way.”