Education

‘Who Wants to Be a Mathematician?’ Comes to Atlanta

"Who Wants to Be a Mathematician?" will pit high school students from different parts of the country against each other for a chance to win $10,000.
"Who Wants to Be a Mathematician?" will pit high school students from different parts of the country against each other for a chance to win $10,000.
Credit Berklee.edu / Pixabay Images
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Thousands of mathematically-inclined types will head to Atlanta this weekend for the Joint Mathematics Meetings. The event is held by the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America. It includes lectures, exhibits, and a game called, “Who Wants to Be a Mathematician?”

The contest is a high school math competition. This year, 2,000 students applied for the highly competitive competition. Of those, 10 were chosen and will face off at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta Saturday afternoon.

“The setup is almost like ‘Jeopardy!’” says Mike Breen, a public awareness officer for AMS and co-creator of the game. “We have five lecterns across the stage; they’re standing at them. They have paper and pencil to work things out, no calculators. They can’t search the Internet for the answer. They’re standing up there answering questions, almost like they would in ‘Jeopardy!’”

Breen says the competition is structured like a game show to deliver the message that math can be fun. He says the competition is sort of like a sporting event.

“People will come and hold up signs for their favorite contestant; they’ll cheer for them,” he says. “They might do the wave. So, it’s kind of a boisterous atmosphere, you might say, at least after the question’s over. While they’re thinking of it, people are usually pretty quiet.”

Kalen Patton, a senior at Fulton County’s Chattahoochee High School, is one of the 10 contestants. He’s the only one from Georgia. He doesn’t know what to expect, but says he’s excited.

“I’ve been practicing for math competitions in general for a long time now,” says Patton, who started competing in middle school. “So, I think I’ll do OK At least, I think I’m familiar with most of the topics that they have.”

The winner gets $10,000. What would Patton do with a haul like that?

He thinks for a minute.

“I think I would like to give at least part of it to my school’s math program,” he says. “Right now, the math team is pretty small. We haven’t been able to go to any really big competitions.”

He says he’d need to save some of the money for college. His first choice is MIT.

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