Malaysia’s little walking calculators who live and breathe math
From left, Chai Feng Ze, Tang Xi Yuan, Alvis Leow, Brandon Choo, Hoo Jordan, Hoo Xinyi bagged gold medals in the World International Mathematical Olympiad in Japan.
SUBANG JAYA: School bullies sometimes call clever kids swots or nerds, while the school athletes are looked up to as heroes.
However, FMT has just met a group of primary school mathletes who everyone looks up to. And not only because these whizzes are the ones who help classmates with their homework.
They’ve just brought home medals for their quick calculations, and are rising stars of the competitive math world.
These super calculating kids put in long hours of mental practice which has led to multiple medals in national and international competitions.
When Brandon Choo was just two his mother played him a YouTube video on multiplication. He thinks it was this that sparked his interest in mathematics.
Choo, from SJK (C) Jalan Davidson in Kuala Lumpur is good at math. Really good.
Alvis Leow’s philosophy: ‘When I can’t solve a problem, I just keep trying.’
He and his five friends bagged gold medals for Malaysia in the World International Mathematical Olympiad (WIMO) in Japan last week.
His team mates were Alvis Leow, Chai Feng Ze, Hoo Jordan, Hoo Xinyi from SJK (C) Jalan Davidson and Tang Yi Xuan from SJK (C) Serdang Baru 2.
The six, plus three others – Yeoh Yi Shuen (SJK (C) Kwang Hwa), Teoh Zhou Zhe (SJK (C) Min Terk) and Cheah Jor Wii (SJK (C) Perempuan China) – did the nation proud in Tokyo.
Yeoh and Teoh were crowned World Champions in their age categories, while Cheah won a silver medal, adding to their impressive, growing haul.
Hoo Xinyi feels sad whenever she arrives at a wrong answer.
Between them they have won hundreds of medals and trophies from various local and international mathematics competitions.
Such glories require a lot of hard work, so these primary school children spend a lot of their time grappling with higher level math questions.
Luckily, for them, math adds up to having fun. But perhaps surprisingly none of them wants to be a math teacher.
These mathletes often easily get full marks in their school exams and find the math they learn at school boring and not challenging enough.
Feng Ze, Choo, Leow, and Xinyi are in Year 5 this year, but they are already tackling math problems designed for students in Form 3 to Form 5.
“I like solving problems, I take it as a challenge,” says Chai.
“I do math when I feel like it but I also enjoy playing outside, singing and public speaking,” says Xinyi.
The children, who train under Academy TeamMathics are all friends and spend a lot of time travelling together to over 20 competitions a year both in this country and abroad.
They already know what their main goal is when it comes to math: to be world champions in the annual International Math Olympiad.
The students before their competition in Japan. (SMO Malaysia pic)
It’s the biggest math tournament for students, and only the top six secondary school students in each country make the cut to represent their nation.
Basically, in Olympiad math competitions, students are given problems to solve. The easier ones usually take around 20 seconds to work out and the hardest ones at least 15 minutes.
These primary school kids are champions, but at times they are given problems which even they cannot solve.
“When I can’t solve a problem, I just keep trying,” says Leow.
Xinyi says she feels sad when after doing all the calculations she finds that her answer is wrong.
“Then I check to see if I’ve made a mistake, and if I can’t find it, I start all over again.”
Choo says, “I practise as much as I can, but sometimes I do get bored and want to play sports.”
But mostly these children live and breathe math, even at the end of a tiring day at school.
“Sometimes before I sleep, I think about a math problem and I try to solve it,” says the bespectacled Tang.
His fellow whizzes nod, seemingly in agreement but perhaps actually mentally calculating the surface area of his lenses.
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