Mad About Math
There’s no reason to be scared of numbers, as these gifted math students from Taguig show us.
RAZEL ESTRELLA // 7 MIN READ
Published October 18, 2017
Enter a classroom with a chalkboard crammed with algebraic equations and chances are you will want to run quickly back outside. But while most see chaos in these strange figures, there are those few who see order — and even something irresistible about them.
“It’s really hard to like math,” says Grade 7 Math Teacher, Mara Genelyn Eson. According to her, only less than half of the students she teaches at Senator Rene “Compañero” Cayetano Memorial Science and Technology High School (SRCCMSTHS) are interested in the subject. She notes, however, that while others may have a natural talent for it, one can grow to love and be great at math through time and with proper training.
Proof of this are the Taguig students who are doing their schools — and the country — proud by demonstrating their talents at various worldwide competitions, such as the 13th International Math Competition held last August 2017 in Singapore. After the event, 17 math enthusiasts from Taguig schools, which include the SRCCMSTHS and Taguig Science High School (TSHS), have each taken home a bronze medal.
These students didn’t wake up suddenly loving numbers. Some of them were lucky to have been mentored by encouraging guardians. “I was raised surrounded by math. My parents have been training me and I’ve grown up liking it,” shares Micah Bless Requierro (TSHS).
Despite the different times they’ve learned to love math and the different routes they took to get there, they all agree that “math is everywhere” and it has taught them to be logical thinkers as well as creative problem-solvers.
“Just because you know the formula, it doesn’t mean that you would already know how to solve a problem. You still have to think about it,” continues Requierro. Often they find themselves surprised by the multiple ways they can attack the same problem. Once they solve it and have their answer validated, the feeling is unbelievable. “It’s so satisfying,” the students almost say in chorus.
And if they can’t solve it?
“Parang end-of-the-world na. Nakakaiyak (It’s like the end of the world, it makes me want to cry),” says Andrea Monique Bermonte (TSHS), adding that the frustration doubles when the teacher reveals the rather simple solution.
A sense of humor might’ve helped a lot in their journey as the selection process and trainings for these competitions are rigorous. Eligible candidates take a battery of qualifying exams at the start of the year, and when they reach the top level, they have to dedicate extra hours beyond the class period and during vacation for more training.
“We start with the basics. When the competition draws nearer, we add higher thinking skills. Pati kami mismo nacha-challenge (Even us trainers are challenged),” shares SRCCMSTHS teacher Joel Padilla, who works with Eson and Mathematics Department Head, Maricel Masalay, in coaching the students. “Since we started our training program, the percentage of those who competed in international competitions has been on the rise. In 2005, we only had one or two. Now, we have 32 international qualifiers and we always win top prizes,” states Masalay.
Aside from the cash prize and prestige that come with winning, the contests have been beneficial to the students’ personal growth. “We notice that their leadership and interpersonal skills developed,” Masalay continues. “They are also able to adapt to the culture of the country they’re in.”
“I was culture shocked!” shares Julie Irish Villagomez (SRCCMSTHS), who won a silver medal in the International Math Open for Young Achievers, another contest in Singapore. “The traffic rules are so different, the people are so disciplined. I’ve always wanted to go there and it exceeded my expectations.”
Mark Andrei Mallillin (TSHS), on the other hand, has learned to be independent during their trip. “When you’re away from your family, you should know how to take care of yourself because there won’t always be someone to guide you in whatever you do,” he muses.
Sometimes, the competition takes a backseat and the students simply enjoy bonding, making new friends, and treating the entire experience like a vacation. If you ask them about their favorite memory of Singapore, they will shout “Universal Studios!” with nostalgic giggles.
After winning an international competition — and having your face plastered on banners displayed around the campus — the students admit that there’s pressure to perform better than everybody else. “Other students will look at you differently. They expect you to ace every test,” shares Leira Mari Vinarao (TSHS). They, of course, won’t get perfect scores every time, but it doesn’t matter. What’s important to this group of young go-getters is knowing that they’ve done their best.
As for their advice to fellow students who despise math or want to be good at it: it’s practice, practice, practice. “Try to solve at least one problem a day, then if you’re okay with that, try adding another problem,” suggests Patricia Nicole Panganiban (SRCCMSTHS), who won in a team competition held in Nevada, USA. “Don’t be afraid of numbers,” adds Vinarao. “Numbers are similar to the alphabet. And all subjects have the alphabet.”
“There’s a notion that you have to be intelligent to do math, but really, you just have to be hard-working,” says Derick Timothy Jalando-on (TSHS), echoing the teachers who believe that perseverance trumps talent. “Even if it’s difficult, if you work hard at it, you will eventually figure it out.”
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