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Middle-Schoolers Tackle Prestigious Math Test at VMI

FullTextImage/img/@altCol. Troy Siemers talks math with middle-schoolers following the AMC8 test at VMI. -- VMI Photo by John Robertson IV.

LEXINGTON, Va., Nov. 13, 2012 – More than 250 middle school students and their teachers traveled to Virginia Military Institute from as far away as Manassas on Tuesday, Nov. 13, for a test sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America. VMI’s sitting will rank in the top 10 nationally for the number of students taking the American Mathematics Contest 8.

The test, which is open to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, is designed to challenge middle-schoolers’ problem-solving skills and increase their interest in mathematics. This is the first year that VMI has participated in the AMC8, although a high school version of the test, the AMC10, was given at VMI for the first time earlier this year.

In addition to the group from Manassas, students attending this year’s AMC8 came from public schools in the cities of Roanoke, Lynchburg, and Lexington, along with the counties of Amherst, Botetourt, Nelson, and Rockbridge.

“This is the most prestigious of all middle and high school math contests,” said Maj. Randy Cone, assistant professor of mathematics, who organized the event for VMI.

The AMC8 is the first step on the ladder to the International Mathematical Olympiad, an international competition for high school students. Cone explained that students who score in the highest 1 percent nationally on the AMC8 will be flagged for further opportunities for growth and enrichment in their mathematical educations.

Promoting such growth and enrichment for both students and teachers is a major reason that VMI chose to host the AMC8, said Cone. “We’re giving kids the opportunity to do something they normally wouldn’t get to do,” he said.

“Our regional community really does seem to be starved for these types of opportunities,” Cone continued. When Cone and others at VMI began planning to host the AMC8, they expected to attract about 75 students. Instead, more than three times as many registered. With this intense interest in mathematical opportunities for K-12 students, members of the math department faculty at VMI are already talking about hosting an event for elementary school students next fall.

Students coming to VMI for the AMC8 first took the multiple-choice test, under the guidance of volunteer proctors from the VMI faculty, staff, and Corps of Cadets. They then enjoyed a catered box lunch before moving into the Gillis Theater, where Col. Troy Siemers, chair of the applied mathematics and computer science department at VMI, presented interesting math puzzles in a talk called “Beauty Through Pattern and Art.” The students and their chaperones were then given the opportunity to take a cadet-led tour of the VMI post.

Siemers closed his presentation with a word of encouragement for his adolescent audience. “Sometimes things in math are hard,” he acknowledged. “Keep trying. ... The world needs you guys. The world needs people who are good at math.”

Funding for the VMI sitting was provided by the VMI dean's office and math department.

–Mary Price