By Lia Tian

On Saturday, May 17, hundreds of elementary school students, coaches, volunteers and parents gathered at Capistrano Valley High School to attend the annual Orange County Math Field Day sponsored by Orange County Math Council. For 23 years, this organization has faithfully hosted the Math Field Day. Throughout the morning, the buzz of excited chatter and playful banter filled the air. From the atmosphere, one could have easily mistaken the event for an NFL football game. By 8:30, masses of people were seated in the bleachers of the gym, eager to begin their day.

After a brief general meeting, students began their day of competition. For the first time, North and South Orange County held a combined math field day where schools all over the OC area participated. Teams were determined by North/South Orange County, school, and grade (4th, 5th, and 6th). Each team participated in three paper tests: Algebraic Thinking, Data Analysis, and Geometry; one building test: Measurement; and a Number and Operations test consisting of an individual mental math portion and a team estimation portion. While the students were busy at work, volunteers and coordinators were equally busy grading tests and determining winners in each category.

In addition to a math competition, students also had several other opportunities. One was a poster contest on the theme “Make math the scene in 2014!” This year, participating teams plastered one side of the gym with hundreds of posters in the morning. Students found many ways to be creative, incorporating lights or real cloth curtains into the designs. Another opportunity was the Rubik’s Cube Challenge, which was inspired by Amber Baur, a former Math Field day coach from the Newport-Mesa Unified School District. In this competition, teams of eight participants attempt to solve 11 Rubik’s Cubes as quickly as they can. The top teams for both competitions would be recognized later during the awards ceremony.

By 12:15, students had completed all of their testing. After a well-deserved lunch break, everyone hurried back into the gym to either participate in or watch the fast-paced Rubik’s Cube Challenge. This part of the day was a nice change from the serious testing in the morning, and students were able to socialize and cheer on their teammates. When the Award’s Ceremony began at 2:45, the atmosphere in the gym had reached a hyper-charged state, and excitement seemed to seep from every corner of the room.

In each grade and test category, the top five teams were awarded. Most teams received at least one medal. Even those who did not gained a valuable experience, and more importantly, they all had fun! After the awards ceremony was over, many of the volunteers and coordinators had a chance to reflect on their own experiences throughout the day. Mrs. Barbara Post, one of the head dedicated coordinators, commented that “Anytime we do things that inspire students to be creative, work together, and support each other, we encourage them mathematically and in all walks of life.”

For many volunteers from OC Math Circle, helping out at the OC Math Field Day was not just another volunteering project, but a way to give back to the community. Mrs. Nita Walker, who has been involved with OC Math Field Day for over 20 years, commented that the most gratifying part was seeing student volunteers who participated in the even themselves coming back. This simple act of paying it forward shows the impact that this one event has made. Mr. Chamberlain, the president of Orange County Math Council, agreed, saying that, “I like the fact that those students had a great experience and wanted to “give back” this year … I was thrilled that something that was shared 5-6 years ago had been remembered and passed along.”

Overall, the 2014 Math Field Day was a great success. One parent said of the competition, “This was a great event, and I’m so glad my kids had a chance to participate.” As the event continues to expand, both coordinators and volunteers hope to inspire the future generation of mathematicians and scientists.