Written by David Mekeel, Reading Eagle
Reading, PA —The students sat in groups of three behind rectangular folding tables, their heads drooped in concentration directed at the sheets of paper in front of them.
Some rested their heads, tilted slightly to the left or right, on their hands. Some had bottles of water nearby. Each table featured a small bowl filled with candy.
What wasn't anywhere to be found? A calculator.
Forty-eight high school students from 16 Berks County schools gathered Wednesday morning at Reading Area Community College to take part in the 29th annual Berks County Interscholastic Mathematics Championship.
The competition - sponsored by the Higher Education Council of Berks County - pits three-member teams against one another, each working through a slew of problems in algebra, trigonometry, probability and limits. The questions, which take the form of both an individual and group written test, must be solved within a time limit and without a calculator.
The task, the students said, was tough.
"It was challenging," said Matthew Boyer, 17, a Tulpehocken High School senior. "I didn't know what to do on half the questions."
"I was confused a lot," added his teammate, Hairuo Zhao, 17, also a senior.
The team from Reading High agreed that the contest was difficult. But for 19-year-old senior Natalie Perez, that was quite all right.
"It was fun," she said, explaining that math is her favorite subject. "I loved it. I loved every minute of it."
Perez said it was thrilling not knowing what to expect and being presented with problems she had to figure out.
"That's math," she said.
Miguel Hernandez, one of Perez's teammates, felt much the same way.
"It was difficult and a bit frustrating," he said, adding that he was faced with things he'd never seen before.
But knowing that there's a lot to math that he still doesn't know, that there are frontiers he's yet to encounter, was exhilarating, he said.
"There's still so many new things out there," he said. "It's so exciting."
Speaking to the students following the competition, Dr. Susan D. Looney, RACC president, said the type of work they did Wednesday morning represents building blocks they will use in the future.
"The problems you solved this morning using algebra, trigonometry and probability are the kinds of math needed in our advanced manufacturing labs, and will serve you well in a number of majors such as criminal justice and business," she said.
Because the tests are scored by hand, results of the competitions won't be available until early December. Wyomissing won the championship last year, and Berks Catholic won it two years ago.