Palmer secondary math teacher Andrew Wong called Grade 9 student, Kevin Yan, who recently won accolades in a math competition, a “once in a career” student.
Kevin took part in the Canadian Open Mathematics Challenge and earned a gold medal in the Grade 9 level in B.C., and a national silver medal, and his score placed him in the top 1.1 per cent of all competitors, which included Grade 10, 11 and 12 students from across Canada.
Kevin enjoys math because it’s predictable, whereby he knows there is one correct answer to every problem, but he also enjoys getting creative about solving problems with his peers at Palmer Math Club.
“There’s always one answer but I also like how there’s different ways to get to that one answer,” Kevin said. “It’s fun to share your different solutions with other people.”
Already at the elementary school level, Kevin’s teachers recognized his exceptional math abilities. He and a friend started coming to the Palmer Math Club in Grade 6 where students would work on math problems together, often with Kevin leading the problem-solving, explained Wong, his math teacher and club organizer.
When he got to high school, he was put in an enriched pre-calculus math class, but even that was too slow for him, and he switched to Richmond Virtual School. This year he completed Pre-calculus 12 and now he is doing Calculus 12.
“We try to place a student where we feel is appropriate both at the ability level, knowledge level, and also socially appropriate level,” Wong said.
Julia Lin, who teaches through Richmond Virtual School as well as in the classroom, pointed out that Kevin will be finished all his official courses at the end of Grade 10, at which time he can continue with university-level courses, for example, at Kwantlen.
Lin said she believes there is good support in the Richmond school district for gifted students.
“(Kevin) finished Grade 10 math in Grade 7 so that’s not going to happen at every school (district) – I think Richmond is doing pretty well,” Lin said.
Jackie Song, Kevin’s mother, said the Richmond math program, the virtual school, the teachers and the principal have all come together to make him improve his math skills and also make him feel like he belongs.
“All these things help him to love math more,” she said.
Song started teaching him math before he went to school because she could tell he really enjoyed it. He would go on websites like coolmath.com and coolmathgames.com to learn more.
“When I first learned about coolmathgames.com I thought I had to be really good at math, otherwise I would lose all the games, so I looked through all the lessons and I read all of them before even touching the games,” Kevin explained.
His favourite math website now is artofproblemsolving.com, where he can also take part in discussion forums with other math enthusiasts. He also watches YouTube math videos on ViHart and Numberphile.
Combinatorics and probability are the areas of math he enjoys the most, but they are subjects that are not typically taught a lot in the normal curriculum. Combinatorics is trying to count how many ways you can do something – if you want to pick three people from a set of seven people, how many ways are there to do it – and probability is talking about chances – if you had to pick three people out of seven people, what are the chances that one of them is Bob, Kevin explained.
After his success in the Canadian Open Math Challenge, Kevin will take part in the Canadian Math Olympiad on March 27.
Kevin’s advice for his peers is straight-forward: if you’re struggling, ask for help and practice a lot.
“I think you should ask for help for more if you’re struggling with a concept,” Kevin said. “If you do enough practice, eventually you’re going to get it.”
When he’s not doing math, Kevin likes to make music on his iPad using Garage Band, and he plays the piano and alto saxophone.