High school geometry competitors go off on a tangent at IVC Math Festival

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Calexico High School team mates, Arad Lopez and Christian Castillo, work on solving a geometry problem posted on the wall at the Mathematics Festival held Friday at Imperial Valley College.

IMPERIAL – The Imperial Valley College Department of Science, Mathematics and Engineering put local high school math students through the paces Friday morning as competitors scrambled to find, then solve, ten geometry problems by reading a treasure map.

At IVC’s annual Mathematics Festival, composed of students enrolled in grades 9 through 12, math representatives from local high schools competed by solving problems in Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II, Trigonometry, Calculus, and Statistics. On Friday, seven teams tackled Geometry at the college’s science building.

Barbara Nilson of Holtville, a retired IVC math teacher, organized the Geometry section of the Math Festival. Instead of teams taking a traditional exam for the competition like the other math divisions, the instructor mixed the game up by giving seven teams a campus map with ten Xs placed at random spots. Once the teams scrambled around the two storied building, orienting to north to get their bearings, they then found geometrical problems taped in random places on walls or tables. The teams collaborated with each other as they recalled important math formulas to solve the equations.

“Math is fun. Math can be physical and fun,” Nilson said. “I like them to move around. I ask them as they finish and turn in their work if they liked the competition or would they prefer taking an exam in the classroom. They always prefer the scavenger hunt.”

Each three-person team brought a compass, a protractor, and a 12” ruler as tools of their trade. No cell phones or textbooks were allowed. Some schools wore team shirts emblazoned with “Easy as Pi” or “Mathletics.” Competitors had to be currently enrolled in math, with the final team selection left to the high school math teachers.

“We had to have two consecutive As in math to be put on the team,” said Janice Riviera, an Imperial High student.

The Calexico geometry team of Arad Lopez, Christian Castillo, and Eric Jarero, all sophomores, methodically knocked out one puzzle after another, each taking time to talk through the problem. After finding a question posted on a wall, one read, “Name the 3 quadrilaterals whose diagonals are perpendicular.” And in smaller print, “Correct spelling is expected.”

“If all sides of parallelogram are equal…” one student asked. “Yeah, right, but the angles don’t equal 90 degrees…” “I know for a fact it is a rhombus, put down rhombus.” “Look, it says here you have to spell it right to count…” “Really?”

Emmanuel Davila, an IVC math student volunteer for the contest, said he had competed in math festivals when he was in Calexico elementary school, and was eager to sign up to help.

“I like how math actually applies to real life problems,” Davila said. “I use math daily. My job is to help the students, like helping them know where north is for their maps and that they understand the directions.”

Nilson taught math for 30 years at IVC and eventually settled into Math for Elementary Teachers. Her classes were taught much like the day’s festivities.

“My students would someday teach kids, and they needed to learn how to make math fun and relevant,” she said. “We did a lot of hands-on projects. Because all the other parts of the festival are sit-down exams, I wanted something physical. However, if I was to organize any of the others, I’m sure I would have added a treasure hunt.”

And the treasure at the end of the competition?

“The satisfaction of finding all the Xs on the map and solving the problems, instead of sitting in a classroom taking a geometry exam,” laughed Nilson.