Nakasuk students shine in national math contest

Nakasuk School students ranked number 2 in Canada’s Pythagoras Contest, a national mathematics skills competition.


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT — Question: Anita has 12 students who wrote a math test. If 11 of them score higher than the national average and the sum of the top three students is greater than the sum of the top three students in all other schools save one, where does that put Anita’s students?

Answer: At the centre of a controversy.

Anita Murphy’s Grade 6 class came second in the Pythagoras Contest a national math contest that was written by 22,575 students from across Canada.

According to the creator of the test, Marcel Lepore, it is unusual for a class to score so highly.

“The national average this year was 19.79 (correct answers). Last year it was 20.” The teacher of math and physics at Sacred Heart College near Montreal says that many adults cannot get more than 20. The class average of 23 to 24 was “very very high,” Lepore said.

When he took the scores of the top three students from each of the schools that entered the contest, Nakasuk ranked number two. Only Seneca Hill School in Ontario scored better.

“[The test] is difficult because of the number of problems and the quickness with which you have to solve them,” he says. The students only had a minute and a half for each question— that’s 75 minutes for the math whi es out there.

Education Minister James Arvaluk was quick to use the students’ achievement as an example of “what our youth and schools are capable of in Nunavut.”

In a June 17 press release he commended the students. “They should feel very proud of themselves,” he said.

But almost immediately the class’s achievement came under fire on Nunanet’s Political Discussion Forum and the students became a political football to be tossed around.

A number of Internet postings after the graduation said the students were from outside Iqaluit and that their high scores were not the result of education in the territory.

“I just want you to put in your story that all of the students who wrote the test come from Iqaluit and were educated here,” said Murphy in a telephone call to Nunatsiaq News .

Janet Armstrong, the mother of Nakasuk’s top scorer, Zachary Armstrong, posted a rebuttal on the discussion forum:

“I have lived in the NWT since 1970 and in Nunavut since 1975. My son was born in Iqaluit and attended all of his schooling here. So his accomplishment is really a reflection of how well our school system is doing.” Armstrong wasn’t alone, a deluge of positive posts flooded the Internet board.

One poster from Rankin Inlet wrote that Nakasuk’s top scorer Zachary Armstrong with 44 correct answers (eighth overall in Canada) was his hero.

“That really is saying something very strong about our teachers and how strong and good education is being taught in Nunavut. We have come a long way!” the poster wrote.

Zachary and fellow top scorers Mat Mahoney (40 points) and Geret Horlick (39 points) each received medals for their achievement. The trio was nonchalant about their achievement, saying the class had simply practiced lots of math problems and had studied with Pythagoras tests from previous years to practice also.

“They’re a great bunch,” said Murphy. She said the whole class enjoys doing math problems and attributes their good performance to practice and enthusiasm for the subject.

“It’s fun doing the hard problems,” said Horlick.

Mahoney agreed with him, “Yeah, it’s a challenge,”

Try the Pythagoras test for yourself

IQALUIT — Try a few sample questions from the contest. You have three minutes.

Question #36: A student always makes the same kind of mistake when he multiplies two numbers. If 3×10=36, and 5×9=54, then 10×4 will equal

a) 52
b) 48
c) 50
d) 45
e) 46
Question #43: The infinite series 1+1/3+1/6+1/12+… has a value of

a) 1 3/4
b) 5/3
c) 2
d) 1 1/2
e) 2 1/3

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