It was a dark and stormy morning. On Tuesday, May 20, teams from five El Dorado County high schools braved rain, legions of elementary school field trippers and shrieking picnickers to triumph over the limitations of mind and achieve victory as problem solvers par excellence.
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Each year, the Math Steeplechase challenges students to think out of the box and apply their math and problem solving skills in unique and challenging ways.
Stations of problems to solve are set up in Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma — 10 on each side of Highway 49.
Freshmen and sophomore teams solve problems on the museum side of the park while junior and senior teams solve the same problems on the river side of the park. They meet at 12:30 p.m. to have a barbecue lunch provided by the Placerville Kiwanis and find out which grade level teams emerged victorious.
This year, the 30th annual Steeplechase, Oak Ridge’s junior team had only one junior and four sophomores, but as they explored the probability problem of Shake, Rattle and Roll and tried to determine the number of each color of cubes in a box, all minds were as one. The cube colors were tallied on a neatly organized data sheet.
Across the street, Union Mine High School’s freshman team was trying to solve Shake, Rattle and Roll, too, with a whole lot of shaking going on. After Lucy Carluccio shook the box violently, Jessica Prichard peeked in the tiny viewing window and called out the cube color that was visible.
Back near the river, El Dorado High School’s senior team split themselves into task teams, almost without speaking, as they went to work to find the center of the nearest barbecue, the southernmost post of a fence, a drinking fountain and a sign and plot them on a map. Two people measured, two people plotted and one person facilitated as strategies evolved.
The Steeplechase is the brainchild of four high school math teachers, Jerry Galloway, Don Guernes, Graham Rankin and Jerry Vanderbeek. They wanted to challenge their students with real-life math applications and out-of-the box thinking.
The original problems were brainstormed by the foursome’s fertile minds. Later problems came from math conferences and problem solving books. The problems are on a five-year rotation as many of the students participate all four years of their high school career. New problems, like this year’s Get There on Time are added from time to time.
“They are clamouring to participate in this at El Dorado,” said EDHS math teacher Adam Angelo. “When we put a team together, we look at math skills, the ability to think out of the box and how students work with others to build a proficient and diverse group.”
Even students not currently taking math classes show up for monthly problem solving practice at Ponderosa High School in order to be on the team, said Lynette Woodruff, PHS math teacher.
Ponderosa’s freshman team worked on their second structure in Domino Power, in which they are challenged to build a free-standing structure using two pieces of paper, one domino, a few paper clips and some masking tape. The first structure missed the five-second standing requirement by one second but the second structure didn’t stand at all.
The rubber band dragon, made by team member Kaitlyn Dias, offered no advice but the team took it with them to the next station for good luck, anyway.
Golden Sierra’s sophomore team worked on Count Me Out, an elimination problem, as a group of fourth graders behind them began Miwok chants outside the bark houses. While Mitch London, Annika Novak and Eric Yamzon talked through a possible solution, Dustin Burnet and Alorah Williams each worked on individual resolutions, trying to find an answer for the team before the 15 minute deadline.
Some problems involve moving things from one place to another using specific criteria; others might challenge the participants to build something or calculate the height or weight of something using different methods or tools than they are used to. Still other problems involve algebra, geometry or trigonometry. Calculators are fine but cell phones are forbidden.
Pencils, plenty of paper and brain power are the most important tools for the stations.
“The Math Steeplechase helped me appreciate that there is more than one answer to any problem,” said former El Dorado student Kadra Rademacher, now studying pre-med at University of California, Davis. “By approaching problem-solving with this mindset, I gain a broader perspective in my classes, even now that I’m in college.”
Winning teams in each grade level division were the EDHS freshman team, Union Mine High School sophomore team, PHS junior and senior teams.
The Steeplechase is run by math teachers from each high school as well as community volunteers and is sponsored by local businesses such as Intel and Safeway.
El Dorado High School’s teams include: ninth grade — Stephen Kosonocky, Karlee Cuddy, Lauren Tigue, Chris Volek, Amy Bryant; 10th grade — Anthony Isenhour, Mariah Thomson, Anika Morkowski, Marcus Cohen, Jack Gavin; 11th grade— Joel Kaderka, Sami Jumper, Ethan Reeder, Sage Somers, Elizabeth Smith; 12th grade — Blake Anderson, David Sieminski, Andrew Jackson, Natalie Holmstedt and George Gallardo.
Golden Sierra High School’s teams include: ninth grade — Kylee Neidigh, Casey Mitchell, Ashley Robertson, Ronnie Stewart, Willow Odette; 10th grade — Mitch London, Eric Yamzon, Dustin Burnet, Annika Novak, Alorah Williams; 11th grade — Jasmyn Torgerson, Austin Spencer, Thomas Eliot, Jon Oules, Hunter Angle Moyer; 12th grade — Michael Robertson, Sam Holman, Dinay Nipar, Andy London and Glen Carlisle.
Oak Ridge High School’s teams include: ninth grade — Dustin Nguyen, Steven Dinh, Bernard Zhao, Kevin Taylor, Erin Dwyer; 10th grade — Nathan Dryer, Andrew Shinn, Cheljea Jang, Aretha Zhu, Sarah Sterling; 11th grade — Kayla Maechler, Chelsea Jang, Chelwei Jang, Yvonna Chan, Hannah Tongthaworn; 12th grade — Spencer Magnussan, Rohit Golconda, Katrina Stranick, Ravi Pandya and Brighton Skeel.
Ponderosa High School’s teams include: ninth grade — Josh Wells, Miranda Dodd, Sam Arcangel, Anthony Best, Kaitlyn Dias; 10th grade — Katie Carter, Madi Nestripke, Claire Hoffman, Lona Balstrieri, Tristan Melton; 11th grade — Matt Spector, Breanna Lambert, Gina Phillipsen, Blake Tinney, Terra Jerpbak; 12th grade — Josh Bolier, Courtney Abajian, Cassie Carter, Jake Pensa and Cameron Stumpf.
Union Mine High School’s teams include: ninth grade — Jessica Prichard, Marissa DeVille, Megan Search, Lucy Carluccio, Kami Kaku; 10th grade — Brody Pearman, Daniel Murray, Allison Prior, Katie Parker, Elle Bertuccelli; 11th grade — Madline Juskie, Logan Brink, Kol Chaiken, Gabrielle Fredericks, Leah Bertuccelli; 12th grade — Aly Ennis, Christian Fredericks, Shayna Weiner, Aaron Below and Johnny D’Agostini.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.