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West Middle School students Wesley Wright (left) and Annione Platten display math books and (behind them) computer programs they use to learn math in Phil Hutcherson's class. Both also earned the bonus of being able to hit their teacher with a pie as a result of memorizing 100 or more digits to the right of the decimal point in the mathematical constant known as pi.
Westside Pioneer photo

West Middle extends MATHCOUNTS gold streak

       West Middle School has currently earned “gold” for the national MATHCOUNTS math-achievement program more times in a row than any other school in Colorado.
       It's the sixth straight year for West. “We are definitely the school with the longest running streak in Colorado,” math teacher Phil Hutcherson said.
       Fifteen West students participated regularly this year in his before-school club that focused on MATHCOUNTS. After handling the program's monthly math problems, they qualified for gold as a result of their performance on a final project last month.
       Hutcherson, a teacher at West since 2005, also reported another success in March, when two of his students successfully memorized 100 or more digits to the right of the decimal point in the mathematical constant (and irrational number) known as “pi.” They had to recite those numbers in front of the class.
       Continuing a tradition he started in 2012, Hutcherson happily agreed to let both students -- sixth-grader Wesley Wright and seventh-grader Annione Platten -- hit him in the face with a cream pie in front of the whole school.
       Hutcherson adjusts the pi/pie standards by grade level - 100 digits to the right of the decimal point for sixth grade, 125 for seventh and 150 for eighth. He said he's thinking of demanding more digits next year.
       But he still wants to keep the goal reasonably achievable, because the stunt is part of his effort to get students interested in math. The plan seems to be working with Annione, who said he “could barely multiply and divide” before taking a math class with Hutcherson, but now he's thinking about joining the MATHCOUNTS team when he's in eighth grade.
       Already on the team, Wesley said that in elementary school the teachers “just had us do it [math].” He said he likes it that Hutcherson “tells us what it's meant for.”
       MATHCOUNTS is sponsored by corporations with an engineering focus that want to emphasize the importance of math.
       In all, only four schools in Colorado achieved MATHCOUNTS “gold” this year (157 nationwide), Hutcherson said. Making it harder was the final project -- new this year -- in which 12 or more students at a school each had to complete a project showing “real-world” math comprehension, Hutcherson explained.
       The way he deployed his club members, 13 tackled individual projects while the other 2 served as their editors, verifying the math and checking for typos in the write-ups.
       The project started with a set of vocabulary words provided by MATHCOUNTS. A student had to choose one of the words, create a math problem (and solution) connected to the word and shoot a relevant photo. An example was the word “congruent.” According to Hutcherson, one of his students found two I-phones that were identical in shape and size (congruent), then demonstrated this fact through calculations of their corresponding dimensions. The photo was of the phones themselves.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 4/9/14; Schools: West Middle School)

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