News

Just Grade 9 but top of Canada's math class

Grade 9 Burnaby North secondary student Qi Qi won first place in the Canadian Open Math Challenge, ahead of thousands of high school students of all grades from across Canada. Here, she shows an example of one of the questions she solved in the two-and-a-half-hour exam. - Wanda Chow/NewsLeader
Grade 9 Burnaby North secondary student Qi Qi won first place in the Canadian Open Math Challenge, ahead of thousands of high school students of all grades from across Canada. Here, she shows an example of one of the questions she solved in the two-and-a-half-hour exam.
— image credit: Wanda Chow/NewsLeader

A Burnaby North secondary student has won first place in a prestigious national math competition, ahead of thousands of high school students from across Canada.

What's most impressive is the student, Qi Qi, is only in Grade 9, and scored higher than older students in the Canadian Mathematical Society's Canadian Open Math Challenge (COMC).

Second place went to Young Suk Choi, a Grade 12 student at elite Vancouver private school St. George's, and a third-place tie went to Frank Zhu, in Grade 12 at University Hill secondary in Vancouver and Zhi Xue Chen, a Grade 10 student from Markham, Ont.

Qi said in an interview that her math skills appear to come naturally. Her father, an architect, is also good at math, and as early as Grade 3 in her native Hangzhou, China, she was placed in an advanced math class.

"I like math because it's logical," Qi said.

She said she's benefited from the education systems in both China and Canada.

"Living in China gave me a pretty solid base of math and also made me realize I'm good at math," she said. "In Canada, I have more free time to explore higher levels of math."

Indeed, she's currently taking online math courses from a U.S. organization. That's in addition to her classes at North, which include Advanced Placement (AP) calculus, AP statistics and pre-calculus 12.

That will leave her with no more high school math courses to take next year in Grade 10. Qi figures she'll adjust by focusing on science courses before she's able to take university level math, possibly in Grade 12.

As for the math competition, she said she didn't expect to finish as well as she did. After the two-and-a-half-hour exam, she felt "pretty good" and thought it was easier than last year's contest, in which she finished 20th overall in Canada, and won the top spot among Grade 8s. But she figured everyone else's marks would be higher too.

Nevertheless, she's pleased the finish will bring her to the attention of those who choose students to attend the International Math Olympiad. It's her goal to one day compete for Team Canada, although she modestly believes she's got some stiff competition, especially from Canadian students who study in the U.S., apparently a hotbed of math wizardry.

Qi arrived in Canada with her family when she was in Grade 6, settling in Prince Edward Island before moving to Burnaby for Grade 7.

For Jenny Young, head of the math department at Burnaby North, Qi's achievement doesn't come as a huge surprise.

She recalled when Qi was in Grade 7 at Capitol Hill elementary, her father called Young asking if his daughter could write the University of Waterloo's Cayley math contest for students in Grade 10 and younger.

"She scored perfect on it."

So when Qi entered Grade 8, she was placed in a Grade 10 honours math class, taught by Young herself, but a couple months into the year she said it wasn't challenging enough. After she was able to prove it, she was placed in a Grade 11 math class.

The University of Calgary math professor Robert Woodrow, chair of the COMC committee, said by email that it "isn't at all common" to see younger students perform above their grade level because their math background isn't usually as full as for older students.

"For a Grade 9 student to come first amongst all those who wrote at Canadian schools is very impressive and shows great promise for future participation in national and international competitions," Woodrow said.

• Burnaby students also scoring highly were Allan Wang of Moscrop secondary and Roger Wang of Burnaby South secondary, who received "honour roll" status as being among the best of Canadian Grade 11 and Grade 9 students respectively.

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

twitter.com/WandaChow

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