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Tribune News Network
IN September, 54 students from Qatar Foundation (QF) schools gathered to take an exam that tested their competency in math. When the test started, the students immediately realised the questions in this exam were very different from those they would solve in their typical math class. Knowing the formulae and studying the textbooks were not enough; they needed to think beyond.
The students who stood out, secured a unique opportunity to represent Qatar in the World Mathematics Team Championship (WMTC) in South Korea.
Of the 54 students that took the test, the 12 who accrued the highest scores in their relevant categories and showed the most potential to excel in a global math competition with this level of challenge, were awarded the trip to the Far East from November 29 to December 3, under the guidance and supervision of Qatar Academy Doha (QAD) math teacher Zeina Jawad and Jason Maraku, a teacher for gifted students at the school, which comes under Qatar Foundation’s Pre-University Education (PUE).
Aimed at challenging students to approach math in a different way, the WMTC is an internationally-recognised mathematics event that takes place in a different country each year. School students from all over the world participate in teams of six, with prizes for individuals and teams who achieve the highest scores. This year, over 700 students from 16 different countries participated in the contest in Incheon.
And while this is the third year that QAD students participated, it was the first year in which students from various QF schools were eligible to apply, with young learners from Qatar Academy Al Khor (QAK) and Qatar Academy for Science & Technology (QAST) also joining the trip.
Recalling the original test, QAD Grade 11 student Arnav Kapoor said: “It was really, really difficult - we had seen nothing like that in our regular school math.”
Fellow QAD student Khalifa al Jehani added: “The math we do at school is kind of linear. We follow only one, two, or three methods at most. But here, we got a question and we had to analyse it and find the best way to approach it. We had to think outside of the box, and sometimes put our own variables into the question or find a relationship between two equations.”
To train for the WMTC, the selected students met at QAD twice a week over a two-month period. Zelealem Yilma, assistant teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, volunteered his time to train the students to be able to tackle the questions they would face in the championship. Yilma said: “They’re very motivated – they have a lot of energy and are very happy to solve these problems. It’s been a pleasure just to come to the school and witness that.”
“Because of the training, we were able to get used to these kinds of questions”, said Arnav. “Our approach to them completely changed: we didn’t try to solve immediately like we used to; we first looked for what the question required and tried to find shortcuts to the answer.”
Saif al Suwaidi, a Grade 12 student at QAD remarked: “It’s focused more on finding innovative and more efficient ways of tackling different kinds of problems.”
At the competition, all the international students are housed in adjacent hotels, creating a perfect set of circumstances for people with similar interests to network and interact beyond just the competition. “I think it’s really cool having people come from all over the world. You hear a lot of different languages and see a lot of different people, and all of them are here for the same math competition,” said Aasiya.
The quality of the Qatar students’ teamwork showed over the course of the competition, as they relished being challenged to take their skills to the next level.
In spite of the demanding nature of the competition, the Qatar Foundation students rose up to the challenge, and two students received special honours: Grade 12 QAD student Oroni Hasan received a bronze medal, which placed her in the top 30 percent of the contestants; and Grade 9 QAD student Jassim al Thani received a merit award, which placed him in the top 40 percent.
During the WMTC, Cynthia Bolton, head of Gifted Education, PUE, presented a pitch to host the competition in Qatar in 2021, which will now be reviewed by the WMTC committee and a decision will be announced shortly.
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