Common Ground: Clearing the hurdles in mathematics

Mar 12, 2015 by Chante Warren @ The Advocate

My son competed in his first math tournament last month along with 445 other fourth- and fifth-graders who spent 90 minutes solving pre-algebra problems and more. While he struggled with some test problems, at least one young test-taker felt at ease with the exam.   

About an hour into the test, my son recalled seeing a student finish with enough time to take a hallway/restroom break, bless a sneezing test-taker from another classroom, and, an hour later, become the Louisiana Elementary Math Olympiad’s first-place champ for 2015.

Jonathan Ding, of Buchanan Elementary, earned applause from hundreds of parents and students at an awards’ ceremony at Kenilworth Science and Technology School on Feb. 21.

As Ding swiftly descended from the gymnasium stands grinning and lifting his arms in the air, he approached the presenter, but not before wiping a tear from his eyes and smiling for cameras.

Other moms — me included — “awed” at Ding as if he were our own, or rather, his victory showed us what our own sons and daughters could one day accomplish.
Ding answered 57 of 60 questions correctly, the highest score in the competition, earning himself an iPod Touch and a $50 gift card for his math teacher.

My son, though he loves math, answered about a quarter of the answers correctly. As Kenilworth’s Superintendent Tevfik Eski put it, the contest is an “old school” competition where students work out problems using paper and pencil only. What my son learned observing Ding is that he’s got to do a whole lot more math practice to compete in these kinds of competitions.

Ding’s math exploits remind me of another 10-year-old Buchanan Elementary genius who whizzed through math like a champ.

About 18 years ago, I visited Buchanan to write a story about Richard Pang, who, while only a fifth-grader, walked across a short stretch of his school’s playground each morning to become a McKinley High student for an hour and solve algebraic expressions and quadratic equations.

By middle school, Pang was taking calculus III and analytical geometry at LSU. He placed in numerous state and national math tournaments and later coached a player who became a national MATHCOUNTS champ.

I have not spoken to Pang in about 10 years, but I am certain that he is fulfilling his dream to become a math professor and researcher.
Like Pang, I can only imagine that Ding probably has some pretty high aspirations and big plans for utilizing his mathematical prowess.

Since my son had a chance to compete with some of the state’s high-performing math contestants, he now understands that competition is stiff and that continuously practicing and preparing could one day land him a spot in the winners’ circle.
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