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Math students: They're not average -- they're mean

Give most middle school students an opportunity to do two extra hours of math a week and you're likely to get some funny looks. But Matthew Hess, Cody Poole, Daniel Warweg and Utkarsh Koshti aren't your average middle schoolers.

At least not when it comes to math.

On Saturday Rosemount's factorial foursome finished 10th place among 23 teams at the MATHCOUNTS state competition held at the Radisson Conference Center in Plymouth. It's just the second time in 12 years of competing RMS has qualified for the state competition. The team qualified by placing first in a section competition.

That's no mean feat.

The Rosemount students have been practicing since November to get ready for last weekend's competition. The team met weekly and took tests. They also brought math "workouts" home. There were 15 to 20 students at each of the weekly meetings. The top four, based on scores on practice tests, were chosen for the competition team.

And as tough as the competition was at the state level, things might have been even tougher at school. Students were always conscious of where everyone ranked and who was likely to make the team. It's easy to imagine some particularly math-centric trash talk being exchanged.

"Your momma uses a slide rule!"

All that practice time added up. But it went a long way to preparing students to answer some pretty challenging questions when they get to the state level.

How challenging? Here's an example taken from the MATHCOUNTS web site:

"A bag contains red marbles, white marbles, green marbles and blue marbles. There are an equal number of red marbles and white marbles and five times as many green marbles as blue marbles. There is a 35 percent chance of selecting a red marble first. What is the fewest possible number of green marbles in the bag?"

Students get so conditioned to tricky questions that when one word problem in this year's state challenge boiled down to "multiply 15 and 6" each of the RMS students read it several times to make sure they weren't missing something.

"Basically, the rule of thumb is, 'If you get it right away, redo the problem,'" said Poole, who is in his third year of MATHCOUNTS but his first on the competition team.

For the students, MATHCOUNTS provides a challenge that's not always there even in the advanced math classes at RMS. Most of the MATHCOUNTS students work ahead in their math classes. Poole said the hardest part about his math classes is having to show his work -- he usually just does everything in his head.

At its root, MATHCOUNTS is about encouraging students to push themselves in math, and to provide recognition for students who excel. Math teacher Angela Pietig, who serves as the team's coach, said MATHCOUNTS also provides a good reminder that while the students are at the top of the RMS math heap there are some other smart students out there.

"It's just a good way for kids to be recognized in the state," Pietig said. "This is a place for them to shine.

"It's just good to see that many kids excited about doing math."