Using their problem-solving and filmmaking skills, four eighth grade students from Rancho Pico Junior High School made it all the way to Orlando, Fla. for the national finals of the Mathcounts Math Video Challenge.
Out of hundreds of submissions, the video produced by the team of Nicole Augusta, Riley Blaugrund, Skylar Higgins and Sophia Summerell—or The Fintastic Four—was selected as one of the top four entries from across the country.
“Making the video and going to Orlando was the best time,” Blaugrund said. “I know that for the rest of my life I will remember this experience and will encourage other kids to participate in experiences like this.”
The annual Math Video Challenge is part of the Raytheon Mathcounts National Competition, which brings together students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade from all 50 states and U.S. territories to compete in a high-stakes math competition.
Created in 2011, the video portion of the competition encourages students to take math and problem-solving skills to the next level by using an interactive, creative video project to solve a Mathcounts problem and demonstrate real-world application of each math concept.
This year, students were given a list of 250 problems, which included everything from algebraic equations and coordinate geometry to probability and statistics, to select and solve by using skills in art, writing, math, acting and technology.
Three of the four team members entered into the competition last year and wanted to select a problem that would challenge them this year.
That is why The Fintastic Four selected a problem dealing with combinatorics, or the combination of objects belonging to a finite or countable set, to answer with their video.
“We knew we wanted something a little more challenging where we could learn something new and make it fun,” Augusta said. “Our problem was a combinatorics problem and we used stars and bars (a mathematical method) to solve it.”
The students did not know how to solve the problem themselves and spent a long time trying to solve the problem on the own before researching different methods online.
“We worked on it for a long time and used a lot of resources to solve it,” Blaugrund said. “We really learned a new concept of math and it was super awesome.”
Because the question detailed the path of a school of fish, The Fintastic Four decided to use stop-motion video and goldfish to answer the problem, and titled their video “A Goldish Fanta-Sea.”
“None of us had done stop motion before,” Higgins said. “The idea came from challenging ourselves and wanting to try something new.”
After finishing their video project, the team submitted it in the competition and tried to bolster public support from their parents, friends, teachers and community members.
“We did the video independently but the school was really supportive,” Augusta said. “The first round is based on public support. All of our teachers and our school were really supportive in getting the word out about it.”
After the public voting concluded, The Fintastic Four was one of the top 100 videos to advance to the next round of judging. A panel of judges then selected them as one of 20 semifinalists and then an expert panel of judges chose them as one of four finalists.
As finalists, each team member received a $1,000 college scholarship and an all-expenses paid, five-day trip to Orlando for the National Competition. For the team, the news was surreal.
“When we found out we were really excited,” Higgins said. “The whole experience was really surreal and we were so grateful and honored that we were chosen and got to participate.”
Once in Florida, the students received a free trip to the Kennedy Space Center where they explored different career paths and real applications for their mathematic skills.
They also had the chance to interact with students from across the country and trade state pins with one another.
“It was a moment where you think, they could be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or the next to go to Mars or we could be the next to go to Mars,” Augusta said.
The team hopes their success inspires other students from their school to enter into the competition next year.
“I hope it inspires other people to do it too,” Augusta said. “It was perfect because it was an opportunity to use math and creativity together. It shows that math isn’t just pencil and paper, but that it’s visual and has real life applications too.”
All of the students said it was an experience that they would cherish for the rest of their lives.
“It’s an experience I’ll never forget,” Higgins said. “It taught us about teamwork and we learned a lot more about ourselves and each other during the process.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_