Nov 012007
Authors: Beth Malmskog

A contest for computers, scholarships and just plain glory drew about 400 high school students to the Lory Student Center Thursday. Students and their teachers came from towns as far away as Paonia and Rangely, Colorado, and Scottsbluff, Nebraska to participate in Math Day, an annual event sponsored by the CSU math department.

Students piled into the Main Ballroom to take the reputedly tough Problems Requiring Original and Brilliant Efforts (PROBE) exam on Thursday morning.

“The people who wrote the PROBE were psychotic,” said Ford Mulligan, 15, of Peak to Peak High School in Lafayette.

This year’s top PROBE score was 56 out of 70, earned by Poudre High School student Sam Elder. This is Elder’s second year winning top honors in the PROBE exam. Most students score under 10 points out of 70 on the exam.

Mulligan supported Peak to Peak in the team contest that took place after the PROBE exam. Teams of three students were seated at tables on either side of math department volunteer readers and timers.

The students listened to the questions, posed over the sound of singing and drumming coming from the Native American Awareness Month celebration taking place on the plaza outside. They then scribbled on sheets of scratch paper or hurried to press buzzers and answer within 30 seconds.

Large and small schools competed in separate brackets.

Boulder’s Fairview High School beat Fort Collins’ own Poudre High School in a close contest to take the large school victory. Steamboat Springs won over Rangely in the finals of the small school competition.

Bernadette Hsu, Kyle Byrnes, and Zach Johnson, the Peak to Peak team, were pitted against Kent Denver High School students Natalie Bodington-Rosen, Jesse Spafford, and Peter Davis in one round of competition. At one point, Kyle Byrnes buzzed in quickly to answer the question:

“Starting with one, you write down the integers in order. How many have you written when you have used 999 digits?”

“369!” Brynes answered correctly. Though Peak to Peak lost the round, team member Zach Johnson said that the competition was “pretty fun.”

“I’d much rather be here than in school,” Johnson said.

“This is only the best day of our school year,” said Matt Cawley, also of Peak to Peak. Their faculty advisor, Holly Armbrust, confirmed that Math Day is popular with students.

“We could only bring 15, but 40 kids gave up their lunch hour to try to come here,” Armbrust said.

Math Day also lets high school teachers from across the region talk to each other and CSU math faculty about what’s going on in math education. The teachers’ meeting this year featured a talk by Carl D. Meyer, a math professor at North Carolina State University who received his PhD from Colorado State University in 1968. Meyer also received the math department’s Alumni award in the day’s closing meeting.

Jon Thurmond, math teacher and advisor to the Arapahoe High School team from Centennial, remembers Math Day from when he was an undergraduate at CSU: “I used to work at it”. As a math teacher, he said that Meyer’s talk about careers in math outside of teaching would help him in talking to his students about the possibilities of mathematics. Thurmond was pleased with his students’ performance. “Some schools train all year for this. We are one of the schools that haven’t trained but we’re doing really well.” However, Thurmond added, he is competitive by nature and plans to start training the team for next year.

Staff writer Beth Malmskog can be reached at

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