When I attended Groves Middle School (PNGISD), I competed in mathematical tournaments sponsored by the Texas Math and Science Coaches Association and local schools. The pinnacle was Texas’s University Scholastic League‘s Elementary and Junior High Academics competition.
My specialty was Calculator Applications. The test’s 80 questions’ difficulties progressed through high school-level problems. Most problems were complicated arithmetic, but 2 out of every 10 questions were word problems.
My “secret” was I could rapidly translate the arithmetic into a series of keystrokes on my TI-60 calculator. I mastered the exact position of its buttons and its order of operations. I also has to use scientific notation as only three significant digits were usually allowed.
Another secret is my TI-60’s slight warp, possibly because of pocket storage. It wobbled while I slammed keys, distracting other students with its rhythmic rapping on the table. Some of these students were already distracted just seeing me work in hyper-spaz mode.
The last few word problems always gave me trouble. I could easily do arithmetic-style problems like finding the cosine of (34+41.6)/23. But if asked the local angle given the adjacent and hypotenuse of a right triangle, I could not figure it out.
One time my father sat me down at our Groves, TX dining room table and tried to teach me these geometric concepts. My 6th grade mind neither “got” nor was interested in those high school concepts.
Once I got all the way through the test, I would return to the beginning and rework problems.
I always did well at the local practice and TMSCA events. In fact, I was first place in the entire state for TMSCA Calculator Applications in 6th grade in 1989. I spanked the competition at a local TMSCA tournament. All local tournament first place winners’ tests got mailed to the state office which then compared winners to determine state titles. I remember being shocked when the Groves Middle School science teacher (whose name I cannot remember–never took her class) broke the news.
I never did as well at UIL events. At regional UIL tournaments in Dayton, sharp kids from the Houston area–I think Pearland?–edged me out.
I sometimes tried Number Sense and Science tests. I did reasonably well at Science but was not state-caliber. I did poorly at Number Sense, which is where you do challenging mental arithmetic without calculator assistance and without writing anything except an answer. You were encouraged to use a pen on Number Sense because you were not allowed to erase or write anything but the correct answer. I liked calculators; why bother with the silly mental arithmetic? (I still say the same despite having a mathematics degree!)
Why did I write this article? It’s time for the trophies to go. They are taking up valuable closet space and haven’t seen daylight in 8½ years. I took pictures of all trophies individually, pried off the plaques, and placed the plaques them on a sheet of paper for long-term keeping.