Kenai Middle students take part in MathCounts

“Yu has 12 coins, consisting of five pennies, four nickels and three dimes. He tosses them all in the air. What is the probability that the total value of the coins that land heads-up is exactly 30 cents?”

Sorting out Yu’s luck is just one of many problems posed to the Kenai Middle School MathCounts team at this year’s MathCounts State Competition, held in Juneau the second week of March.

This year’s team members included seventh-graders Phoebe Thomas and Hayden Hanson and eighth-graders Maison Dunham and Emma Mullet. Together, they brought home three awards, including the third place team trophy. In the individual category Dunham finished fifth overall and Hanson finished sixth overall.

“MathCounts emphasizes some math that’s usually not seen until college,” said David Thomas, the MathCounts team coach. “…The problems in front of them are always ones they’ve never seen before. They’ve learned to figure out similarly difficult problems, but they have to puzzle their way through that particular problem in the moment.”

Thomas, of Kenai, has volunteered his time as the MathCounts coach for the past six years. The club meets every Thursday for two and a half hours, he said. Thomas works in the community as an engineer and his children have attended Kenai Middle School.

“I found out about this program and suggested that if they wanted to offer it, I would volunteer to be the coach,” Thomas said. “We’ve always gone to the regional competition, all six years, and most years we’ve advanced to the state competition.”

MathCounts is a national program that allows students to compete in live contests against their peers. This year’s competition brought together 35 students from eight teams across Alaska, Thomas said.

The program is open to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students and holds competitions at the school, chapter, state and national levels. At each competition, there are four rounds. Some rounds allow a calculator to focus instead on students problem-solving and mathematical reasoning. Other rounds don’t allow a calculator, which instead tests the students’ speed and accuracy.

As for Yu and his coins, there is a 23/4,096 probability that his heads-up coins will equal 30 cents.

Reach Kat Sorensen at

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