PCR Math Whizzes Earn Perfect Scores

Photo by Mirjam Swanson / OUTLOOK
Palm Crest Elementary’s Blake Chang, Neal Frankenberg and Thomas Sorensen all scored a perfect 25 on this year’s Math Olympiad for Elementary and Middle Schools testing.

A trio of math virtuosos at Palm Crest Elementary School recently pulled off a mind-boggling feat: They all achieved a perfect score of 25 on this year’s Math Olympiad for Elementary and Middle Schools testing, for which they will be recognized with the Lenchner Medal, the award named after the late founder of the program.
Of 90,000 4th-, 5th- and 6th-grade students who participated internationally in 2016-17, only 155 earned perfect scores, “a highly improbable 0.2%,” as parent Sugi Sorensen put it.
This year, PCR 6th-graders Blake Chang, Neal Frankenberg and Thomas Sorensen all did it — and then downplayed their accomplishment, which was achieved over the course of five individual five-question tests taken over the span of five months.
“The test, I swear, they took it down a notch in 6th grade,” Chang said.
“Yeah,” Frankenberg agreed, “the tests were much harder in 4th and 5th grade.”
That calculation is incorrect, said PCR Math Olympiad coach Andres Castano, who explained that MOEMS is a junior version of the better-known International Math Olympiad competition.
In fact, he said, the boys — who notched the first perfect marks in LCUSD’s five-year history participating in MOEMS — have just gotten that much better.
“These kids love math the same way some kids love violin,” Castano said. “They want to learn more math. [So] the parents took a very active role in their math education. They said, ‘OK, we’re going to turn one room in our homes into a classroom and we’re going to prepare the curriculum ourselves and get books and we’re going to teach them.’”
Chang, Frankenberg and Sorensen are three of a group of PCR students (also including Cayden Chang, Marius Rutkowski and Siddarth Pillai) who, since August, have supplemented their math education with a program known as Math Academy. The Pasadena-based program is receiving growing acclaim for curriculum that seeks to develop middle school and high school students’ passion and skills so they can excel in honors math and science.
Twice or three times a week, the students have gone to each other’s homes and studied math — and had fun playing together before and after their lesson, in addition to enjoying snacks like especially tasty chocolate croissants, Blake Chang remembered.
They’re enjoying it so much, that when their parents suggested giving them a week off during spring break, the kids protested, Sugi Sorensen said.
“They wanted to keep doing class,” he said. “They are having this explosion in curiosity and interest.”
It’s also led to a special sense of camaraderie, said Suniti Sanghavi, Frankenberg’s mom.
“It’s a very healthy dynamic that’s developed,” Sanghavi said. “They’re such good friends with each other and super-supportive. If one doesn’t do well enough, the others know exactly the right thing to do to prop that person up.
“Very often, people associate math with one-upmanship, but it’s nothing like that with them. It’s just pure love for math and for each other.”
The accelerated program isn’t for everyone, Sugi Sorensen said. But it adds up, if math speaks to you as it does to Chang, Frankenberg and Sorensen.
Frankenberg was adding and subtracting at the age of 2; Blake Chang “started late” in 1st grade, and Thomas Sorensen said he finally got around to doing “some more advanced math” in kindergarten.
These days, Sorensen is especially partial to geometry; Chang to algebra and Frankenberg to trigonometry.
And now they can say they’re Lenchner Medalists, though they can’t be expected to crow about it.
“Not that a perfect score is an end in of itself,” Castano said. “It’s more of a signal that this kid is really way ahead of what we would have expected from a kid his age.”
“It just shows what kids are capable of, if you feed them at their level of understanding,” Sugi Sorensen said.
Which might mean mathematic equations or chocolate croissants.

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