Charity Logo

Charity Logo

Charity of the Month


In December I am riding for Heifer International. Founded in 1944, Heifer International works with communities around the world to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth. Its approach is more than a handout. Heifer provides animals (e.g., heifers, goats, water buffalos, chickens, rabbits, fish, and bees) and training to impoverished people in over 30 countries. The animals can give milk, meat, or eggs; provide draft power; or form the basis of a small business. Communities make their own decisions about what crops, animals, and market strategies make sense for their everyday conditions and experiences.

Heifer International is based on 12 Cornerstones, such as Sustainability; Genuine Need and Justice; and Gender and Family Focus. Perhaps the best known Cornerstone is Passing on the Gift, in which Heifer recipient families pass on the offspring of their animals to others in need. In this way, whole communities can raise their standard of living.

A donation to Heifer International also can make a wonderful alternative holiday gift. Instead of yet another sweater for Grandma that she really doesn’t need, why not donate a Heifer animal or a share of an animal in her honor? Does your child really need so many new toys? Instead of five new toys, give him/her three new toys and a Heifer flock of chicks. Heifer has honor cards to let your loved ones know of your gift on their behalf.

I have set up a Team Heifer page to support Heifer International through A Year of Centuries. My goal is to raise $500. Please make your donation through If you would like more information about Heifer’s work, please visit Whether you give to honor a loved one or make a regular donation, thank you for taking steps to transform the world for the better.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tribute to My Math Team Coaches

On this last day of February, I’d like to pay tribute to my math team coaches.  They showed me that math is a life skill, a fun arena for competition, and a thing of beauty in and of itself.

Mrs. Childs

This first person I want to recognize is Mrs. Mary Childs, my 7th grade math teacher.  Although she wasn’t actually one of my math team coaches, she helped pave the way for me to be successful in math in high school.  When I was growing up in DeKalb County, we didn’t have middle schools or junior highs.  Elementary school went from 1st grade through 7th grade (public kindergarten was added when I was in about 3rd grade), and high school went from 8th grade through 12th grade.  Mrs. Childs saw that I had interest and ability in math and encouraged me in that direction.  She even loaned me some algebra books to do some studying on my own before I moved on to high school.

Mrs. Yontz

Mrs. Tami Yontz was a math teacher at Lakeside High School during my 8th grade year.  She wasn’t one of my classroom teachers, but she played an unknowing role in my love of math: she recruited me for the 8th grade MATHCOUNTS team.  I remember going to some afterschool practices, and the problems were challenging!  We went to the chapter competition, which was held at Georgia Tech.  The world of academic competition was brand new to me, and I have to admit that it seemed a little overwhelming.  For one thing, I had no idea that these kinds of competitions took pretty much all day on Saturdays!  Mrs. Yontz was very nice to give me a ride home afterwards.

Mr. Koff

In 9th and 10th grade I was on the junior varsity math team, coached by Mr. Bob Koff.  Mr. Koff also taught me geometry in 9th grade.  Everyone loved Mr. Koff.  He was a fun teacher, but he was good, too.  I have some fond memories of Mr. Koff in class.  One time he gave us a “gift” of a quiz on the last day of school before Christmas break.  It was a multiple choice quiz with questions like this:

Three non-collinear points determine a/an:

A)    Plain

B)    Plane

C)    Airplane

D)    Airplane II

E)    Hydroplane

Another time during a regular class, Mr. Koff was standing in front of the room, explaining the day’s subject matter.  Some kid walked by, stuck his head in the door, said, “Hey, Mr. Koff!” and went on his way.  Mr. Koff took off after him, I guess to reprimand the kid for disturbing class.  When Mr. Koff left the room, several of my classmates closed and locked the door and taped a piece of paper over the single window pane in the door.  On the piece of paper they had written, “No dogs allowed.”  Several minutes later, a stern voice came over the intercom: “OPEN THE DOOR!”  I think we resumed class as usual.  I don’t remember whether those classmates got in trouble, but the whole thing was pretty hilarious to us innocent bystanders.

The main thing I remember about Mr. Koff and the J.V. math team is when we went to the Woodward Academy invitational one year.  (Those Woodward Academy tournaments seem to be the most memorable for some reason.)  All of us B-teamers were in 9th or 10th grade, and so we couldn’t drive yet.  The varsity math team helped drive us to and from the tournament, but because the J.V. and varsity teams didn’t break for lunch at the same time that day, we younger ones had to rely on Mr. Koff to transport us to lunch.  There were about eight of us B-teamers, and Mr. Koff drove a compact car with a hatchback.  We didn’t think twice about all of us squishing in any which way, including one or two in the hatchback area, and of course most of us weren’t wearing seatbelts.  We went to Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Today, not only would these shenanigans not pass muster, we’d have to eat at KFC.

Mr. Voris

Finally, there’s Mr. Ralph Voris.  He was legendary.  I absolutely loved Mr. Voris.  He was probably the most influential teacher I had at Lakeside, which is saying a lot, because I had many, many excellent teachers there.  He taught me trigonometry in 11th grade and calculus in 12th grade, and he was also the varsity math team coach, which was comprised of juniors and seniors.  Mr. Voris was famous for a number of things:

·         “Scoring opportunities,” as he called them.  These were quizzes, usually pop, that were on a 10-point scale.  That made it tougher, because even if you missed only one point, making a 9, that was recorded as a 90 in your quiz average.  He never wrote 0 on anyone’s paper, though; if you were unfortunate enough not to score any points, you just got a check (i.e., checkmark).  Also, you had to use a half-sheet of notebook paper for quizzes.  He intended for you to keep the other half for the next quiz; I don’t know whether he was trying to be green, efficient, or both.

·         Quotes on the chalkboard.  He wrote three or four of them every day.  They were thought provoking, even profound sometimes.  An example: “Eschew obfuscation.”

·         Mr. Voris always very deliberately differentiated between “sign” and “sine,” spelling them so that no one would get confused.

·         As fun-loving and exuberant and Mr. Koff was, Mr. Voris was just as quiet and serious.  We knew that Mr. Voris cared about us as students, but he never tried to get buddy-buddy with anyone.  When we went to all-day math tournaments, Mr. Voris brought a sack lunch and ate it by himself in his car while listening to classical music.

·         Mr. Voris was a huge classical music fan.  Jason Jones, a student a year ahead of me, told a funny story about this.  It was after school, and Jason was sitting in his car in the parking lot, windows rolled down, listening to the radio while he waited for someone.  He saw Mr. Voris come out of the building and start walking toward his car, which was parked near Jason’s.  Jason quickly changed to a classical music radio station, cranked it up, and sat there chilling.  As Mr. Voris walked by, his eyes were as big as saucers.

Thank you, Mrs. Childs, Mrs. Yontz, Mr. Koff, Mr. Voris, and all of the other math mentors I had in elementary school through college.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Solutions to International Talk Like a Pirate Day Math Problems

Here are the answers to yesterday’s problems.  Even though September 19 is the official ITLAPD, talking like a pirate can improve any day.  Arrr!

1.     45 men

2.     3/4

3.     15 pirates

4.     24.68 degrees N, 78.07 degrees W

5.     38 minutes

6.     $3150

7.     3 days

8.     126 feet

9.     X = 3

10.  15 combinations

Monday, February 25, 2013

MATHCOUNTS Club Program/ITLAPD (Arrrr!)

In the 2007-2008 school year, MATHCOUNTS introduced the Club Program.  The Club Program is another means to involve and excite middle school students in math.  Schools can have a math club, a competition team, or both within the MATHCOUNTS program.

The Club Program provides resources for fun, instructive math get-togethers throughout the school year.  Clubs can strive for Silver or Gold Status by completing specified numbers of monthly math challenges.  One great thing about the club approach is that it can appeal to students who might not want to be fully involved in competition.

The national MATHCOUNTS office always welcomes input from coordinators and coaches.  In the months leading up to the launch of the Club Program, the national office put out a request for fun problem sets, particularly those with a theme.  I had created a number of such problem sets over the years, and so I submitted a few.  I didn’t know if or how they might use any of my material.  Then the Club Program was announced, and a Club Resource Guide was provided to each participating school.  The very first math club activity in the Club Resource Guide was one of my submittals, Talk Like a Pirate Day!  Shiver me timbers!

International Talk Like a Pirate Day (ITLAPD) is on September 19 every year.  It’s one of my favorite holidays, up there with Groundhog Day.  Arrr!  To incorporate ITLAPD into MATHCOUNTS one year, I made a map of Piedmont Academy, the school where I was coaching, and marked ten X’s on it.  Each X marked the location of a math problem.  The mathletes were divided into two teams, and the first team to get back with the most problems solved correctly got the prize booty (chocolate gold coins).  Because I really get into these things, I dressed like a pirate and went by my pirate name, Dirty Bess Flint.  Arrr!

Here be the ITLAPD questions (Avast!  I’ll post the answers tomorrow.):

1) Ol’ Chumbucket can blow a man down in 20 seconds.  Arrr!  How many men can he blow down in 15 minutes?

2) Polly wants a cracker.  Awk!  A bowl of crackers sitting next to her perch contains 5 Ritz© crackers, 4 saltines, and 7 Wheat Thins©.  If she sticks her beak into the bowl and randomly pulls out a cracker, what is the probability that she does NOT get a saltine?  Express your answer as a common fraction.

3) The pirates of The Black Pearl are a motley crew.  Arrr!  Twenty-seven of them have earrings, and 25 of them have peg legs.  If the crew consists of 37 pirates, what is the smallest possible number of pirates in the crew with an earring and a peg leg?

4) Dirty Bess Flint buried her treasure at 24 degrees, 41 minutes N and 78 degrees 04 minutes W.  (That’s degrees and minutes of latitude and longitude, ye scurvy dogs!)  If there are 60 minutes in one degree, convert the treasure’s latitude and longitude into decimal degrees (i.e., showing no minutes).  Express your answer as a decimal to the nearest hundredth.  Arrr!

5) Blackbeard has to swab the poop deck after a sword fight.  Arrr!  The poop deck is 48 feet wide and 100 feet long.  If Blackbeard can swab 125 square feet per minute, how many minutes will it take him to swab the entire poop deck?  Express yer answer to the nearest whole number.

6) On his last raid, Captain Jack Sparrow stole 1000 pieces of eight, 500 doubloons, and 600 gold coins.  (1 piece of eight = $0.75; 1 doubloon = $1.20; and 1 gold coin = $3)  If each type of coin is worth the dollar value given, what is the total value, in dollars, of Captain Jack Sparrow’s booty?  Arrr!

7) The Horrid Shark pirate ship is sailing from the Cayman Islands to St. John’s.  Arrr!  If she can sail 20 miles per hour, and St. John’s is 1350 miles from the Cayman Islands, in how many days will The Horrid Shark arrive at St. John’s?  Express yer answer to the nearest whole number.

8) Cap’n Slappy has to punish one of his bilge rate crew members.  Arrr!  He plans to keelhaul him, which is dragging him along the underside of the boat lengthwise.  However, Cap’n Slappy relents and decides to drag him only widthwise.  If the width of the ship’s hull is approximately a semicircle with radius 40 feet, what is the distance, in feet, that Cap’n Slappy drags the bilge rat?  Express yer answer to the nearest whole number.

9) X marks the spot!  What is the value of X in the system of equations 6X – 5y = 8 and 2X + 9y = 24?

10) Mad Dirk is hanging nautical flags on the mizzenmast.  Arrr!  He doesn’t care about what signals he is sending to other ships (he is mad, after all), and so he randomly selects four of the six flags in the ship’s storage compartment.  How many different combinations of four flags could Mad Dirk select for the mizzenmast?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Middle Georgia Chapter MATHCOUNTS Competition

The 2013 Middle Georgia chapter MATHCOUNTS competition was today at Mercer University in Macon.  The Middle Georgia chapter of the Georgia Society of Professional Engineers (GSPE) hosted the event.  Fifty students from nine public and private middle schools in Middle Georgia participated.  I’m very pleased to report that we had a fun and smooth competition!

The MATHCOUNTS competition would not be possible without all of the wonderful volunteers.  Many of my fellow GSPE members have been working with me for years, and it’s such a load off my mind that they are so reliable and know exactly what to do.  In addition to us GSPE members, we also received super volunteer support from Mercer students and faculty.   Thank you to all of you for promoting mathematical excellence among our Middle Georgia young people!

The mathletes completed three rounds of competition in the morning, two as individuals and one as teams.  After lunch, we reconvened for the Countdown Round.  The Countdown Round, which includes the top 10 mathletes from the morning session, is a fast-paced, oral competition with electronic buzzers.  Frank Malloy, the news anchor from WMAZ TV in Macon, served as the Countdown Round emcee, which he graciously has done for many years.  The Countdown Round is open to the public.  The problems are projected on a screen that everyone can see.  It’s fun to try to solve each problem yourself; can you figure it out before the Countdown Round competitors buzz in?

The top two teams were Stratford Academy (1st place) and Mount de Sales Academy (2nd place).  The members of those two teams, along with the top eight individuals not on those two teams, will advance to the state competition, to be held on March 18, 2013 at Georgia Tech.  Congratulations to the winners, and thank you to every student and coach who participated!

By the way, we provide a T-shirt to each mathlete, coach, and volunteer.  As the primary T-shirt designer, I’m always on the lookout for design material.  I tend to favor math jokes and puns, which are pretty easy to find on the Internet.  I think we’ve had some pretty good T-shirts, but this year’s may be the best:

T-shirt front 

T-shirt back

As the chapter coordinator, I always breathe a huge sigh of relief when we complete another competition successfully.  It seems like something weird always happens, even if it’s just a small glitch.  For example, today the auditorium where the competition was to be held was locked.  I had to call the Mercer police to unlock the doors for me.  The main thing is, DON’T PANIC:

A locked auditorium is nothing compared to some of the trickier situations that I’ve faced over the 15 years that I’ve been volunteering for MATHCOUNTS.  A few years ago, an ice storm hit the night before the scheduled chapter competition.  I had to send a lot of e-mails and make a lot of phone calls to let all of the coaches know that we had to postpone the competition.  Fortunately, the venue was available the following week, and we were able to reschedule with minimal problems.

The most memorable MATHCOUNTS situation I faced, however, was as the state coordinator in 2008.  The state competition is always held in Atlanta in March.  Well, that’s the year that the tornado hit downtown Atlanta.  One of our major state MATHCOUNTS sponsors was Shell Oil, who flew in a representative from Houston.  She was staying at the Peachtree Plaza, which suffered major window damage when the tornado hit on Friday night.  I’m sure that’s a trip that she won’t soon forget!

I had come up to Atlanta myself that Friday night, planning to spend the night with my mother before the competition at Zoo Atlanta the next day.  Additionally, I combined volunteer activities, bringing my greyhounds for a special meet & greet at the World Congress Center on Friday evening.  (My mother kept the greyhounds for me while I was at MATHCOUNTS the next day.)  The hounds and I left the World Congress Center at the end of the meet & greet, only 45 minutes before the tornado hit that building, too!

Tornadic systems moved through the area all through the night and the next day.  I was ready to leave my mother’s house at about 6:30 on Saturday morning.  She asked, “Shouldn’t you call someone in charge to see if the competition is still going on?”  “Uh, Mother, I am the person in charge!” I replied with a laugh.  At the very least, I needed to go to the zoo to assess the situation.  Fortunately, we were able to continue as planned.  Just barely, though.  We were almost finished with the awards ceremony on Saturday afternoon when there was another tornado warning.  Zoo officials made as leave ASAP.

If I ever have to deal with locusts at a MATHCOUNTS competition, I suppose that the apocalypse will be nigh.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Solutions to Presidents' Day Math Problems

Here are the answers to yesterday's problems.  By the way, if we're going to strengthen mathematics in our country, shouldn't we start calling it the Elliptical Office instead of the Oval Office?

1) 9 pi

2) 200 minutes

3) 1/2

4) 120

5) 1946

6) 24

7) 25%

8) 1812

9) 25

10) James

Monday, February 18, 2013

Presidents' Day Math

Happy Presidents’ Day!  It’s also National Engineers Week (February 17 – 23).  Engineers Week always encompasses George Washington’s birthday (February 22) because in addition to being our first president, George Washington has been described as our first engineer.  Hail to the chief with these presidential math questions.  I’ll post the answers tomorrow.

1.     The cherry tree that George Washington chopped down had a 6-inch diameter.  In square inches, what was the cross-sectional area of the resulting stump?  Express your answer in terms of pi.

2. Abraham Lincoln sometimes walked long distances to borrow books from neighbors. Walking at 3 miles per hour, how many minutes would it take him to get to the house of a neighbor who lived 10 miles away?

3. A bag contains a penny, a nickel, a dime, and a quarter. What is the probability that a randomly drawn coin shows a president who served during the 1800s? Express your answer as a common fraction.

4. The following presidents want to sit at a round table together to discuss foreign policy: Chester A. Arthur, James Buchanan, Grover Cleveland, Millard Fillmore, and Andrew Johnson. In how many different ways can they be seated?

5.  George H.W. Bush was born in 1924. In 1968 he was twice as old as his son George W. Bush. In what year was George W. Bush born?

6. A presidential candidate is making bags of trail mix to take on his campaign bus. He has 120 peanuts and 96 jellybeans. He wants to have an identical mixture of peanuts and jellybeans in each bag and use all of the ingredients. What is the maximum number of bags of trail mix that he can make?

7. Woodrow Wilson served two terms as president, from 1913 – 1921. The United States was involved in World War I in 1917 and 1918. For what percent of the years that Woodrow Wilson served was the United Stated involved in WWI?

8. When was the War of 1812?

9. How many presidential elections occurred in the 1900s?

10. Of the 44 presidents of the United States, 23 have had unique first names. The remaining presidents have had the following distribution of first names: Andrew 2, Franklin 2, George 3, James 6, John 4, and William 4. What is the mode of the presidential first names?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Solutions to Valentine’s Day Math Problems

Here are the answers to yesterday’s problems.  You loved them, didn’t you?

1) 74 kisses

2) 5/8

3) QT pi (get it?)

4) 66 combinations

5) 6.6 oz.

6) 1600 feet (Note that this problem involves a multiple of the Pythagorean triple 5:12:13, or solve using the Pythagorean Theorem.)

7) 22 women

8) 7 minutes

9) 9%

10) 0