May the best trig win

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 - 23:00
Chugiak students excel at state-level trigonometry competition
Chugiak High School junior David Stockhouse won the Alaska state Trig-Star title plus placed fourth in the nation on the national exam. He likes math, he says, because it’s “definite.”

Taking a trigonometry exam on a spring afternoon might not sound like the most people’s idea of a fun time.

Unless you’re David Stockhouse.

The Chugiak High School junior won the state level of the Trig-Star math exam, administered at the school last April.

The annual competition, sponsored by the National Society of Professional surveyors, promotes trigonometry and honors students demonstrating superior skills.

One winner is chosen from each participating school, and he or she advances to compete for the national Trig-Star title.

This year’s test was conducted in spring of 2014.

According to Chugiak High School math instructor Laurie Templeton, each school hosts the same exam on the same day, and all exams are timed.

Over 60 CHS students took the most recent test, a population higher than previous years. Templeton attributes this to the popularity of such television shows as “The Big Bang Theory” and “CSI.”

“Being a geek is cool,” she said.

The test featured three pages of problems plus a back page of data citing such complex formulas as trigometric functions, pythagorean theorem and the law of cosines.

According to Templeton, the first two pages of the exam are geared towards high school and college levels, and the last page is “ridiculously challenging.”

Students were given an hour to complete the exam. Most finished in around 40 minutes.

Stockhouse scored 94 points out of a possible 100, netting a perfect score on everything except a problem in the last question. He finished in 39 minutes, 34 seconds, the fastest time in the state.

It was his first time taking the test.

“I did it because my teacher (Templeton) encouraged me,” he said.

He didn’t expect to win. And when his calculator batteries died in the middle of the exam, he was sure that that was the end of any chance of placing. He stopped, removed batteries from one of the school’s calculators and loaded them inside his, losing precious test time in the process. It was a well-earned lesson.

“We always have doubts that there are people out there who will soar above us and we can’t succeed,” he said.

In June, Stockhouse took the Trig-Star national exam. It was administered at his house, under the supervision of a proctor.

“I took it at my kitchen table,” he said. “It was a lot less stress. There was no one I was competing with that I could see.”

A month later, he received notification that he had placed fourth in the nation.

“I like math because the answer is always definite,” he said. “In English literature, there’s something that you have to imply, and that’s not my strong suit.”


Second place, and lovin’ it

Laura Joy Erb, who placed second in the CHS Trig Star Alaska State Competition, loves math.

“I was born with an interest in math,” she said. “It’s one of my biggest passions.”

Growing up, her math instructor mother assigned her pages of math problems to work each day.

“It was my favorite thing to do after school,” Erb said.

It’s math’s very absoluteness that she finds comforting, and days when she’s stressed, nothing calms her down as much as working through math problems.

She enjoyed the Trig Star exam and had a “blast” solving the triangle questions.

“There’s nothing more fun, with so much of an adrenaline kick, than solving triangles,” she said.

However, a careless mistake caused her to miss a section of the last question.

“If I had looked at it for five more seconds, I might have caught it,” she said. “I never thought I’d miss something so simple.”

Still, she’s happy with her second place state standing, happy that she has math in her life. She definitely sees a place for it in her future.

“The beauty I see in math is that you can know when you are right,” she said. “It’s almost black and white but there’s a depth, and the depth behind that concept blows my mind. It’s astounding.”

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