More Than Just a Math Club
Is Math Club really just a place for the so-called “math nerds” to hang out? Or is there more to the infamous Math Club?
November 9, 2019
“ONE MINUTE LEFT! MAKE SURE THE ANSWERS ARE ON THE ANSWER SHEET!”
People huddle around junior Sarina Doshi, the official scribe for the Team Scramble competition. Some frantically ask if she has written down their answers while others try to tell her to fix their answers last minute. Time is ticking, and Math Club members need to use every remaining second to maximize the number of points earned.
Team Scramble is officially over.
I stand on the side with Mr. Beilin, amazed at the synergy I have just witnessed. I had walked into the Team Scramble expecting members to work on their assigned questions silently, but there was no silence whatsoever. From the start of the competition all the way to the end, the members were loudly discussing math problems ‒ even working out the problems on the whiteboard after the competition had ended.
Now the average high schooler probably wouldn’t even talk about math outside of class. So imagine someone willingly discussing math problems after an intensive math competition simply to understand the problem better.
That level of commitment to mathematics is hard to find, especially since mathematics is not necessarily the most enjoyable subject for people. Yet Beckman has their own hub ‒ or should I say, gang ‒ of people truly passionate about mathematics.
Math Club is an organization on campus dedicated to mathematics, specifically focusing on developing math skills beyond the classroom level and preparing for math competitions throughout the school year. While Mr. Beilin is the advisor, the club is mainly student-led with seniors Jeremy Chow, the captain, and Brandon Lu, the president, as well as Catherine Cui, Derrick Teshiba, Ethan Han and Vianna Seifi, leading and organizing the practices.
The club is divided into three different levels: Junior Varsity, Varsity and Travel. Each team has its own focus, and, similar to athletic teams, members progress through the levels as they gain more experience with competition math. Here’s a quick rundown of each of the levels:
Think Math Club is exclusive to the “math nerds”? Well, that’s a very wrong assumption.
Junior Varsity level is open to all students. Anyone who has an interest in math can sit in on a JV meeting, and they will be introduced to a new world of mathematics. “In Math Club, we are all in different levels of math, but the questions we practice do not reflect that. Here, students from Calculus BC and Geometry have the potential to stand at the same ground. Because of that, I find it very special that we are all very supportive of everyone’s ability to learn,” comments junior Alan Wang.
The main purpose of the JV level is to prepare members for competition math. The meetings, led by the seniors, usually start off with a logic problem. A logic problem is more advanced than a typical math problem and requires more thinking because it is supposed to train members to think about math through a different lens. After discussing the problem, the seniors introduce various math topics that are taught outside of the math learned in schools, such as number theory, their current topic. The meetings conclude with a relay, a mini competition for the club members. However, the JV meetings aren’t just about learning math; it is also about building connections with the current members and growing accustomed to the culture of Math Club.
After learning the foundation of competition math at the JV level, the members advance to the Varsity level. The Varsity team focuses on preparation for competitions, training themselves with problems from the Putnam exam, the most advanced mathematics competition for undergraduate college students, and other competitions. The Varsity team are the members who are both passionate about math and have the desire to take their mathematical abilities to the next level ‒ competition math. “The people that come to Math Club are people that truly enjoy the logical reasoning and creative thinking that competition math often offers, and I believe that makes it unique in that nobody needs to motivate the core members – we do that for ourselves,” says Ethan Han.
The travel team is the final destination for Math Club members. They are the most experienced members of the club, or, as Mr. Beilin calls them, the “ninja panzer commandos” ‒ the elite special forces of math. Here, the members will travel to different places to compete, so their practices are focused on preparing for upcoming competitions.
The travel team competes at the Berkeley Math Tournament, Caltech Harvey Mudd Math Competition, California State University, Long Beach Math Day at the Beach competition, University of California, San Diego Honors Math Competition and the American Regions Mathematics League competition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Unbeknownst to many, the team has achieved high honors at these competitions, ranking in the top three for the Los Angeles Basin region, the top five for Southern California, top fifteen in California and 26th nationally.
“We have achieved some notoriety amongst not merely the local area but also in the state of California. In fact, we have national recognition now. I remember when we first started, I would go into a competition, and I would walk into the coach’s room and go, ‘Hey I’m from Beckman High School,’ and people would ask, ‘Beckman High School? Where’s that? Who are you?’ Now the students themselves walk into competitions, and it’s now, ‘Ooh there’s Beckman, Beckman’s here,’” remarks Mr. Beilin. “They know us.”
While Math Club primarily focuses on preparing for competitions, there’s much more to just practicing math problems. Through their long hours of practices and meetings, club members have also built their own culture and an unbreakable bond with each other.
The culture of Math Club is something quite unique. I mentioned earlier that the club could be considered a “gang,” and I wasn’t joking. In fact, they are called “the closest thing to a gang on campus” ‒ and the members themselves acknowledge this.
Their hub, Room 207, Mr. Beilin’s room, is their second home – a place to have fun and do what they love without being judged as a math nerd. “There is nothing like a community of those who share your same passion, and when it came to math, that meant making math jokes, solving problems in different ways and talking about our shared dislike of geometry,” comments Brandon Lu. “Our shared hate for geometry, and, at times, stupid ideas, definitely created a unique connection, and these are the few people on campus that can understand the humor that can come from math.”
Simply put, Math Club is a place for them to geek out about math problems together because they all find the complexities of math intriguing. “We share [the] same interest and therefore [are] able to have fun solving difficult math problems,” says sophomore Min Kim.
However, it seems quite odd that competition math could be fun. After all, this is competitive math.
Even though Math Club has a competitive environment, the energy in the classroom is always positive and uplifting. “While we are extremely competitive and have a more “strict” hierarchy, many of the people within the team are good friends both in and outside Math Club, and most of us just want to have a good time,” says Derrick Teshiba.
Being a team is an important aspect of Math Club. During their practices, they discuss problems and work toward a solution together. “Instead of treating each question as a competition with each other, we are actually impressed if a person manages to solve a question uniquely, and [we] are motivated to learn from each other as well,” comments Jeremy Chow.
Unfortunately, math is inaccurately portrayed as an independently-completed subject. But in reality, math is all about teamwork. Especially at the team rounds in competitions, teamwork is integral to solving all the problems. For their recent Team Scramble competition, Math Club members would not have been able to complete all 100 questions if they didn’t work together.
But doing math problems together is just one part of building their math team. Another part is their traditions and inside jokes, and Math Club has some interesting traditions and jokes:
1. Eating maple bacon donut bars from Donutery.
Every year, the new officers have to eat this special donut. Not sure how it tastes because there are mixed responses from the victims.
2. Eating the avocado ice cream at John’s, dinner at Great China and the green sauce at Brazil Cafe.
This is a tradition that the members try to do every time they go up to Berkeley for the math tournament. Eating food seems to be a common tradition because there is always food at meetings and post-competitions.
3. Having the captain hold all the plushies at once at CSULB.
Yes, the travel team brings Mr. Beilin’s stuffed animals to their competitions, and, yes, they even bring the stuffed animals up to the podium if they are recognized. Since the plushies are there, why not have the captain hold it all at the same time?
4. Have ‒ or force ‒ the captain and president to go to Homecoming or Prom.
Apparently, Math Club members want to encourage their captain and president to have a social life by encouraging ‒ or forcing ‒ them to attend one of the two big dances. This goes along with the more informal tradition of shipping people in Math Club.
5. Sin(x)=x and e=3=π
A commonly used inside joke that no one else gets but the members. But don’t bother asking them because they won’t tell you.
These traditions and jokes are what keep Math Club lively and make math even more enjoyable. Every meeting is filled with laughter because the members are doing what they truly love to do and are surrounded by those who share the same passion. Teachers unintentionally walking into a math club meeting are also quick to notice the unusually high spirits for a math club.
“Beckman Math Club dismantles the stereotype that math isn’t fun, and it provides a place for similar yet different people to become friends and pursue a common interest: math!” states Cui.
And she is absolutely correct.
What is the true meaning of Math Club?
Math Club is an “incubator for future mathematicians,” as Mr. Beilin calls it. It is a place for anyone to explore the world of mathematics beyond school-based algebra, geometry or calculus and hone a passion for math while developing an intrinsic motivation to excel academically. It is a place for the “math nerd” to find his or her place in a community of welcoming mathematicians.
It is a place they can call home.