Seventh-grader Gunnie Margrabe devotes three hours a day to it on weekends and two hours a day during the week.
Unlike many middle-schoolers, it’s not playing video games and it’s not practicing sports.
It’s studying math.
The 12-year-old Boonsboro Middle School student reads textbooks from AoPS “Art of Problem Solving,” and studies number sense and number theory with MIST Academy. To bone up on his competitive skills, he goes to mathcounts.org and practices problems from past math competitions.
“It’s fun. It’s exciting,” he said. “I’ve studied all my life. It’s amazing all the things you can do with math.”
Gunnie, who dreams of becoming a computer engineer or a physicist, took first place Saturday in the MathCounts 2012 Hagerstown chapter competition at E. Russell Hicks Middle School.
“I wasn’t surprised I won because I’d put in so much time with my work,” Gunnie said. “But I’m glad.”
The event, now in its 29th year, is part of a program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers at local, state and national levels.
Dan Matonak of the Hagerstown Chapter of Maryland Society of Professional Engineers said MathCounts is designed to inspire curiosity and confidence in middle-school math students and to provide foundations for success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.
Nearly 100 students from nine Washington and Allegany county schools competed in the event, which was a qualifier for the state competition March 17 at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The top three teams and 16 individual students in Saturday’s competition advanced to that round, Matonak said.
Besides Gunnie taking top honors as an individual, his Boonsboro Middle School team was the first-place team.
The competition included an individual problem-solving examination, an individual target round and a team competition. Team captains were responsible for divvying up 10 problems among four team members who figured answers on a 20-minute deadline.
In an unofficial public portion of the event, “mathletes,” as the program calls them, went head to head solving algebra and geometry problems on the spot before an audience of spectators.
“How many sides does a polygon have if the sum of the measures of the interior angles is 1,080 degrees?” announcer William “Billy” Snyder asked.
Gunnie stood to answer before Snyder even finished asking the question. Less than a second after he had finished, Gunnie calmly and correctly answered, “Eight.”
Roy Struble, who teaches eighth-grade math and co-coaches the MathCounts team at Boonsboro Middle School, said Tuesday MathCounts club meetings are the highlight of his week.
“I’ll put down a problem and they argue, they fight trying to work out the answer. It’s so thrilling, like a teacher’s dream,” he said. “MathCounts kids go on to the higher math courses, to the better colleges. They become the valedictorians, and become leaders academically all because of this experience they’ve had in middle school. It really lights them on fire for learning and makes them go.”
Michael Robinette, an eighth-grader at Smithsburg Middle School, was a member of Saturday’s third-place team. He joined MathCounts last year after his teacher told him he probably would be good at it. Michael said he feels proud when he solves hard problems that seem really complicated at first.
“I really like math,” he said. “I’m pretty good at it.”