UC Irvine expects to host about 200 math whizzes from local junior high schools in March for the 10th annual battle of the brains known as MathCounts.
"We are urging teachers to register students before the Nov. 30 deadline and begin coaching for the competition on March 7," said Cliff Ishii, state coordinator for MathCounts and owner of a Cypress engineering firm.
The competition is sponsored by the California Society of Professional Engineers and is part of a national program designed to promote mathematics skills among seventh- and eighth-grade students.
Each junior high school may enter a team of four of its best math students. Their teachers are provided with coaching materials and tests by MathCounts sponsors, and in many cases with volunteer coaches, such as Ishii and other local Orange County engineers. The competition itself is comparable to a spelling bee, but it includes both team contests and individual competition.
"We want to encourage junior high school kids to get interested in mathematics, to show them that math can be fun, just like football and basketball," Ishii said.
Ishii may have been something of a math whiz himself as a boy, but nothing compared to today's youngsters. "I got A's, but it's just amazing what these kids can do today," he said.
The importance of MathCounts and programs like it is that they give children an opportunity to excel in math, organizers say.
"We've found that if you give a kid a chance to show that he or she is good in math, they will be. If you don't, they won't," Ishii said.
The event will mark the first time UCI has hosted the Orange County contest. It will be one of 27 such regional conferences around the state, beginning in mid-February. Winners of the UCI event will advance to state semifinals March 14 at Walker Junior High School in La Palma. Winners there will advance to national competition May 14 through 17 in Washington.
Last year, Edward Wu, a student at Rancho San Joaquin Intermediate School in Irvine, was on the California team that went to the nationals. Although last year's team placed 18th in the competition, California has placed in the top 10 in every other year of the annual event.
UCI is especially eager to host the competition this year and not just to support and expand mathematics education in local schools.
"Students who compete in the regional competition are exactly those we want to attend UCI when they reach college age," said J. Dewayne Green, an administrator for UCI's department of information and computer sciences. "MathCounts is an excellent opportunity to make first contact with these talented students."
UCI plans to host the regional event for the next three years and as part of the program will offer graduate and undergraduate math and science students to serve as volunteer coaches. According to Ishii, the optimum practice for MathCounts is a one-hour session once a week for eight weeks. It is a time commitment after school or during the lunch hour that many teachers cannot afford.
Teachers seeking registration applications or more information should call UCI's MathCounts coordinator, Wendy Lasher, at (714) 856-8276.