Math challenge ‘adds’ to students’ learning

Lake Park students ranked second in national competition

by Josh Whitener

Four Union County middle school students are neck-and-neck with other students across the country vying for the top spot in a nationwide math competition.

Josh Forster, Parker Garrison, Luke Muma and Strider Frank currently stand in second place in the Reel Math Challenge, a contest where students create and submit a video that shows practical, every-day application of mathematics.

“A lot of times when they’re learning math, students go, ‘I’m never going to use this,’” Ginny Forester, Josh’s mom, said. “This shows them that math really matters and why.”

The Reel Math Challenge was created this year by MathCounts, an organization that uses different programs to encourage middle school students to enjoy math. Participants must be in grades 6 to 8, work in groups of four, select a problem from a provided list and submit a video no longer than five minutes.

Josh, Parker, Luke and Strider, who have dubbed their group Team P.H.I. (Peers Harnessing Ideas), chose a problem that asked them to calculate the maximum number  of 3” x 1” x 1” blocks that will fit into the a 5” x 5” x 10” box. The number turned out to be 83.

The students had to rescale some of the dimensions to adjust for the size of the materials used.

“I like math naturally, especially algebra and geometry,” Luke said. “This project really teaches you real-world application (of those subjects).”

Their video, “The Case of the Extra Duboorstubop,” used large, Jenga-like blocks (which the kids call “duboorstubops”) and a wooden box. The plot of the video revolves around a kid finding a package addressed to his dad, opening it and seeing the “duboorstubops,” taking them out and having to figure out how to fit them all back in before Dad gets home.

“I really love acting, so this was fun for me,” Strider said.

The project not only tests students’ math skills, but challenges them to use technology, creativity, critical thinking and performing skills as well.

“I like technology and math also, so this was the perfect competition for me,” Parker, who did much of the video editing himself, said.

Once the video is submitted, it is posted on the Reel Math Challenge website, The public can visit the site and click the “like” button beneath each video. The site allows one vote per day per IP address. Voting started Nov. 15 and continues through Feb. 1.

The 20 videos with the most votes will move into the semi-finalist round, and the top four of those videos will be shown to students attending the MathCounts competition in Orlando, Fla., on May 11. Those students will vote to select the winner.

Although Team P.H.I. has had overwhelming success, getting committed voters has been a challenge.

“Because they’re all home-schooled, not being attached to a school, you don’t have a bunch of kids going home and voting every night,” Ginny Forester said.

To give Team P.H.I. an extra boost, Donna Garrison, Parker’s mom, posted a link to the video on the homeschool network. Soon after, the video received a letter with high accolades from a mom in Utah who stumbled upon the video.

The members of Team P.H.I. look forward to competing in the finals if their video is chosen. But they also have their eyes set on the grand prize, a $1,000 college scholarship and an HTC Flyer Tablet.

“Of course, I did this (competition) for academic excellence, but I want the tablet, too,” Josh said.

To view the video and vote for Team P.H.I., visit

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