December 12, 2018

Yavneh Girls’ Math Video Is a National Finalist

First stop, math competition. Next stop, Hollywood?

Four Yavneh Hebrew Academy middle school students were among three runners-up in a video competition that asked them to build a storyline around a word problem.

Yavneh Hebrew Academy eighth-grade students Talia Alter, Aliza Nissanoff, Talia Sacks and Daniella Zisblatt created the video, “Recipe for Success,” which was a finalist in the MATHCOUNTS National Competition, a program that challenges students to develop their math, communication and technology skills in a collaborative video project.

The girls’ video follows two sibling bakery owners, Katherine and Sophie. Katherine makes six cakes per hour, while Sophie makes four cakes per hour. Much to Katherine’s chagrin, she is paid $11 less than Sophie for each cake she makes. The two attempt to figure out how much Sophie must be paid for each cake for them to earn the same amount.

The characters employ a guess-and-check problem-solving strategy as well as an algebraic equation to solve the problem. The girls find that Sophie needs to be paid $33 per cake for the siblings to make the same amount.

Sharon Ryan, chair of the math department at Yavneh Hebrew Academy, served as the adviser on the project. “It’s a sizable competition and it’s from all over the country,” Ryan said. “I think it was an incredible honor they were chosen.”

The girls wrote the script for their video and shot it in February on Super Bowl Sunday in the kitchen of their Hancock Park Orthodox day school.

The video features some special effects, with Sophie and Katherine shrinking to miniature versions of themselves, similar to “Alice in Wonderland,” after they drink a concoction they created for a party being catered by Yavneh Cakes.

After submitting their video, the girls accumulated enough votes from the general public to place their submission among the top 100 videos. After a panel of judges ranked them as one of the four finalists, they were flown to the MATHCOUNTS National Competition in Washington, D.C., which was held from May 12-15. 

I think it was an incredible honor [the girls] were chosen.” — Sharon Ryan

Ryan was worried the girls would not be able to attend because the competition began on Shabbat. However, the girls flew to Washington on May 13. Their schedule included touring the capital’s famous sites and presenting their video to the competition’s voters.

“The girls were convinced from the beginning they had a good video, and I thought they had a good video, but there were lots of good videos,” Ryan said. “It was great they could experience the whole thing even though they are in an Orthodox school.”

First place went to “Little Figures,” a video produced by students from San Antonio, Texas, which was inspired by the film “Hidden Figures.”

While the Yavneh students’ video demonstrated their math chops and production skills, Ryan said she was most impressed by the girls’ follow-through, from conception to the contest.

“Math doesn’t just teach us how to sort numbers, it teaches us how to think, how to problem-solve,” Ryan said.“And that’s really what we are trying to do with children — not
just trying to make them calculate correctly. We’re trying to make them think through a problem.”