In both seventh and eighth grade, Li won the state championship in the MATHCounts competition for sixth- through eighth-graders.
Li said he participated “just to test my ability to do math quickly.”
At 8 a.m. today, students from schools throughout the region will gather at Mohawk Valley Community College to compete in the 2019 competition, sponsored by the Oneida/Mohawk Chapter of the New York Society of Professional Engineers, for the chance to move on to state competition.
Later in the day, a different group of students will gather to code apps at the thINCubator for the first AT&T Mohawk Valley Youth Hack.
And next month, teams from two local schools will compete in the state championship of the Science Olympiad.
Teams from Camden and Clinton high schools placed fifth and third, respectively, at a regional competition at Le Moyne College in Syracuse last week to earn their spots at the state championship March 15 and 16, also at Le Moyne. Camden frequently goes to the state competition; but this will be the first trip for Clinton after more than 20 years of competition.
Kathleen Washburn, a chemistry and biology teacher who coaches the Clinton team along with chemistry teacher Meredith Callaghan, says it’s great to see competitions that recognize intellectual accomplishments.
“We always celebrate these big victories for athletic teams, which is awesome … but to have academic records like this, that is really awesome, that kids can do something so remarkable,” she said.
The Olympiad consists of 26 individual competitions ranging from make-ahead projects to labs to tests. Each member of the 15-person teams typically competes in three or four of the events, Washburn said. Some of her students, for example, made an airplane that has to meet certain construction parameters and requirements for flight time.
Li advised this weekend’s MATHCounts competitors to start out by looking over the questions and answering the easy ones first.
“I would say if you’re stuck on a problem, just move on. Circle the number of the problem, move on and then come back to it,” he added.
Li acknowledged that math sometimes has a bad reputation among his fellow students.
“I think that’s mostly because of how it’s taught,” he said. “Math is taught in ways that make no sense.”
For example, the math curriculum might require that students solve a simple problem about how many $2 notebooks someone can by for $100 using a required method that doesn’t relate well to real life, he said.
“In real life, there’s often many, many ways to solve a problem,” he said.
“Math competitions,” he added, “encourage creativity and multiple ways to solve problems.”