The State(s) of Math Club

School News
April 1, 2019- Their sweatshirts are emblazoned with the Gore Rangers logo and a series of ones and zeroes that are binary code for the letters V M S. They are the school’s self-proclaimed “Mathletes” and they just made school history sending the first-ever VMS math team to the Middle School State Championship that was held on March 23rd at Denver University. 

Spencer Hurd, Tristyn Hurd, Henry Pratt, Andie Shim, and Sammie Shim represented VMS at the State Championship after qualifying either individually or as a part of a team at the Regional Competition that was held in Grand Junction during February. Spencer, Tristyn, Henry, and Sammie comprise the team that qualified by placing 2nd at regionals. Andie earned her spot based on individual score. 

Among 170 middle school students at the State Championship, Sammie placed 76th, Henry finished 86th, Spencer was 123rd, and Tristyn finished 128th. But this is where the math gets complicated both literally and figuratively, and provides insight not readily apparent to the casual observer. 

1700 students competed at the regional level. That makes the 170 students who advanced to the State Championship the top 10% of middle school math students competing in the state, which means that finishing among the top 85 students at States puts one in the top 5%. As for other statistics, front range independent schools Graland Country Day and Colorado Academy were at regionals, but they did not qualify any teams for the State Championship. So, in the interest of modeling humility and other positive character traits, we’ll let you finish that word problem for yourself. 

The VMS Mathletes are actually a part of an extracurricular club started by Middle School Director, Kabe ErkenBrack, seven years ago. A handful of middle school students were hungry for additional challenge, so Mr. ErkenBrack created a Math Club. Like its current iteration, the Club met outside of regular classes, typically during lunch, and worked on math problems that went deeper and farther than their work in regular classes. For the record, and in the interest of providing perspective on this year’s achievement, that first group competed in regionals, and, according to Mr. ErkenBrack, “Got their butts kicked.” This served as motivation, though, that has developed into a culture of cross-age leadership and peer mentoring that has helped grow the Club. 

This year, twelve students are a part of Math Club, which is more than 10% of the entire middle school since we are talking about math. They still meet twice a week during lunch and tackle tough problems guided by the interests of the group. This year, the students have gravitated toward more philosophical, big-picture ideas like the Theory of Relativity. They talk about how math enabled Einstein to go from abstract theory to concrete proof and then tackle questions designed to challenge the group based on their current skill threshold. 

“The questions we are working with don't go any farther than geometry and algebra one, but they are more in depth and require more thought than the math problems that students their age might normally work with,” says Mr. Erkenbrack. “The big, philosophical ideas are fun and engaging. Explaining them is the hard part, but that is the purpose of math. These discussions give students context for why we spend so much time working on difficult equations and complex word problems. Ultimately, this kind of work motivates them to go farther and deepen their passion for math, and that is the purpose of Math Club.” 
 

About Vail Mountain School

Founded in 1962, Vail Mountain School is a K-12, coed, independent school in Vail, Colorado. Our philosophy is to provide a demanding, college preparatory, liberal arts education in an atmosphere of mutual respect between faculty and students, where nurturing a healthy self-concept and stimulating academic inquiry are parallel objectives. Intentionally designed cross-age programs promote role modeling, responsibility, self confidence, and a sense of community. Our location in the Rocky Mountains allows us to integrate the outdoors into the academic and cultural fabric of the school through hut trips, all-school Ski Fridays, and other experiential learning opportunities. The result: our graduates possess a quiet confidence that serves them well in college and in life—confidence to assert themselves in their first college level essays; to raise their hand in a class of hundreds; to live on their own for the first time, to meet with and engage their professors; and to lead among their peers.