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Camp Convenes Math Elite: Sonoran Science Academy Hosts Summer Program for Gifted Kids

July 17, 2008

By Andrea Rivera, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Jul. 17–None of the participants at a math camp held last week at Sonoran Science Academy could count.

They weren’t allowed to. At least not in the traditional sense of counting.

Counting numbers, but not by counting, was the theme of the seven-day Math, Science Olympiad Program summer camp hosted by Sonoran Science Academy, 2325 W. Sunset Road. Nineteen students from six schools in three states — Arizona, California and Utah — attended the camp, which ended Friday.

“They learn how to count without specifically counting,” math coach Ali Gurel said. “They learn more advanced counting techniques.”

Techniques include finding the number of solutions to a problem and the number of arrangements, Gurel said.

“They don’t count one by one. They find a clever way to count,” he said.

Dotan Zion, 12, explained that he learned to count numbers without actually having to count “by using factorials” and “by using ‘X choose Y’ and by finding a bigger number that fits in a smaller number.”

Sound confusing? To the uninitiated, it is.

Dotan, who attends Magnolia Science Academy in Reseda, Calif., and the other participants received invitations to the Math, Science Olympiad Program camp, which is a program through the Accord Institute, because they are gifted math and science students.

Instructors from California-based Accord, which provides academic programs for students in grades six-12, have backgrounds in math, science and computers, and they prepare students for regional, national and international competitions in math, science and computers.

Gurel, who is from Irvine, Calif., coached one of his California students, Zeb Brady, to a gold medal in the 2006 International Mathematical Olympiad competition.

Only six students from the United States are selected each year to compete in the event.

Brady, 17, worked with Sonoran Science Academy students Richard Spence and Joshua Sloane at the Tucson camp.

Spence, Sloane and fellow Sonoran Science Academy student Langston Harris represented Arizona at the Lockheed Martin MathCounts National Competition in May.

Only four students from Arizona were invited to Denver to take part in the competition.

Brady, who will attend the California Institute of Technology in the fall, had Spence and Sloane complete a three-hour exam consisting of 15 problems.

Brady believes Spence, 14, and Sloane, 13, could one day represent the U.S. at the International Mathematical Olympiad competition.

“If they keep studying at this rate, they can make the team,” Brady said. “They have a big head start because they started studying as sixth- and seventh-graders. I only started studying in the 10th grade.”

Like Spence and Sloane, the participants spent hours solving math problems, learning about computer programming and participating in lectures.

The students all said they had fun while learning about math concepts such as probability, combinations and bijections, which are mathematical functions.

But coaches stressed more than just math and science at the camp.

Students played board games and a math version of Jeopardy and watched movies.

Guest speakers and field trips to the Desert Museum, Biosphere 2, Pima Air & Space Museum and the University of Arizona’s College of Optical Sciences also were part of the camp.

Though the goal of the camp is to build math and science skills, team spirit and social skills also blossom at the camp.

“We try to make them more social,” Accord computer coach Fatih Gelgi said. “Normally people think smart and hardworking students are just nerds and don’t do anything. Look at our camp — it’s not like that.”

There’s no doubt that all of the students share a love for numbers, but they have different reasons for their interest in math.

“It’s not really the answer to a math question, it’s mainly how you solve it. The different ways that you use to solve it,” said 12-year-old Peter Bian, who attends Sonoran Science Academy.

Sonoran Science Academy student Katy Muhlrad, 12, can’t really explain why she is so fond of math.

“Maybe it’s the feeling you get when you get a problem right,” she said. “I guess I just feel happy and, like, I actually did something useful.”

It’s not really the answer to a math question, it’s mainly how you solve it.

Peter Bian

Sonoran Science Academy student

–Contact reporter Andrea Rivera at 806-7737 or arivera@azstarnet.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

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