On March 10, Harker will host the 12th annual Diana Nichols Math Invitational at the middle school campus, open to all math students in grades 6-8. Students from schools all over the Bay Area as well as India and China will participate in the contest, which began in 2002 as the Harker Math Invitational before being renamed in 2011 to honor Diana Nichols, who was instrumental in the contest’s inception.
Middle school math teacher Vandana Kadam started the contest to foster the problem-solving skills of Bay Area middle school math students. “Given the competence of students from the Bay Area, I thought it would be good to have a contest that challenges their thinking and puts them in competition with students of similar caliber,” she said.
The first invitational featured six schools and 120 students. For its 10th anniversary, attendance was nearly triple that of the first contest, and for the first time international schools were invited to participate. A special test is designed for international students with the help of middle school math students in elective classes, who assist in making the problems more compatible with the foreign students’ curricula and integrating terminology they have become accustomed to in their classes. “Creating a separate contest for the international schools has definitely made it more exciting for the international students,” said Kadam.
The invitational has become a labor of love for the middle school’s math department, whose members work tirelessly each year to make it happen. “Right from making the contest to running the show on the day of the contest, every single member of the math department contributes in a big way towards the successful hosting of this huge event, which has grown tremendously in the last 12 years,” Kadam said.
Kadam has also made strides toward increasing the role of upper school student participation in running the contest. In past years, upper school students helped with registration, proctoring exams and grading. Recently they have assisted in designing problems for the participants. “Apart from a core group who work with me for several weeks to create the contest, a number of upper school volunteers help out on the day of the contest,” Kadam said. “They feel good about coming back to the middle school to make a difference.”