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LCUSD elementary students vie for top prize, bragging rights at Mathzilla 5.0 competition

Hundreds of La Cañada Unified elementary school students and parents crowded into Palm Crest Elementary School's multipurpose room Thursday, cheering on their respective campuses in an annual competition geared not toward athleticism, but a different kind of excellence — mathematical.

Now in its fifth year, Mathzilla 5.0 pits students in grades 4 through 6 against one another in individual and group competitions designed to flex gray matter with a series of tasks centered on speed, accuracy and hand-eye coordination.

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Palm Crest parent Sugi Sorensen created the event with La Cañada Elementary School moms Laura Seropian and Purnima Kuchikulla after realizing students who avidly competed in the Math Olympiad season from November through March were still chomping at the bit to do more math.

"Our ultimate motive is trying to take math out of the shadows as a nerd thing and make it cool for everyone," Sorensen said. "We're trying to give kids who have different strengths different chances to find something that interests them."

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Earlier in the school week, participants took a speed computation test and, on the day of the event, a 30-minute problem-solving exam. During a pizza break, while graders scored the exams, kids demonstrated their digital and mental dexterity in a timed Rubik's Cube-solving contest, their fingers flying as classmates dressed in red (PCY), blue (PCR) and yellow (LCE) T-shirts cheered them to victory.

La Cañada Elementary sixth-grader Sebastian Yu took the top prize, solving his cube in 43 seconds, while fellow LCE sixth-grader Joey McCord came in second place at 49 seconds. Kaylee Chun, a fifth-grader from Paradise Canyon, took third overall with a time of 56 seconds.

"I've done this many times," McCord said of Mathzilla, admitting his performance was a bit off from his personal best time of 22 seconds. "I personally like both the math and the cubing."

The evening culminated with a team competition, with one team from each grade level at all three schools participating in a relay event. Students grabbed up to 30 questions, one at a time, racing back to their tables for an answer from the group. Success on the first attempt earned the team five points, while three points were awarded for a second guess and two points for a third attempt.

Classmates roared, jumping and cheering as running point totals for each school were updated on a projector. Some covered their ears as the clock counted down the final minutes and anticipation reached a fever pitch.

"It's crazy — it's like a ballgame," said Seropian, who helped coach LCE's relay team a full month before Thursday's event. "Kids just love this, and they come year after year."

By the end of the relay contest, La Cañada Elementary teams earned a collective 99 points, while Paradise Canyon scored 199 points, just shy of Palm Crest's 203 points. After factoring in grade-level performances on the individual tests, Palm Crest Elementary was announced this year's Mathzilla winner and recipient of the event trophy, while medals were awarded to top-scoring individuals.

"That was as exciting as any basketball or football game I've ever been to," organizer Hilary Gregg said in closing remarks, thanking participants, judges and parent volunteers. "It's such a blast."

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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