Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I've just returned from the Nordic finals of the 9th grade mathematics competition. The top team from each of the five Nordic countries convened in Virrum, a suburb of Copenhagen Denmark, and I was invited as part of the Norwegian leaders team (I had written some of the questions for the semifinals). Four kids and a teacher and maybe a parent came from each of the countries Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. (Quick Nordic Fact™: "Scandanavia" refers to Denmark, Sweden and Norway, while "Nordic" refers to all five of these northern countries.)

We met at Shäffergård, a house given to Denmark from Norway as a thank-you for Denmark's help during WW2. Denmark built one in Norway, also (and I think they built one in Sweden too, there's a lot of that kind of thing going on around here). We visited the Experimentarium, which is one of the best kids science museums I've seen. It was fun talking to the kids in the competition at the museum. That afternoon the teams gave presentations of projects their class had worked on. The theme this year is "Mathematics and Animals". The Swedish team, dressed as bees, gave a smooth and funny performance and scored first place in presentations. Here they are demonstrating how bees dance to express a particular angle between food and the sun.

That evening, we took the teams to Bakken, an outdoor amusement park. We all rode on a bus, and once everyone was settled, the leader took role calling out the names of each country "Iceland? ... ja, Denmark? ... ja, Norway? ... ja, Sweden? ... ja, and who else? Ah yes, Finland! Ja." I was in the presence of all of these countries, all these neighbors, all these people who look out for each other. It was nice.

As the kids rode rides and played games, I made friends with math ed people from all the Nordic countries. Several of them remember me from a conference in Copenhagen in 2004 where I performed mathematical juggling in a math circus.

As the time to the bus approached, I strolled the lovely park around the amusements area. I saw 10 white stripe tail deer. We regarded each other for several minutes through the ferms, then they nervously moved on. Here's a tree outside Bakken. It immediately struck me as 2 or more women. Perhaps this tree is a dryad, a spirit of the forest that takes the shape of a tree.

The next day was the other part of the mathematics competition. Teams had 5 minutes to solve a problem. During the 5 minutes the audience (which included a 3rd and a 6th grade class) furiously worked on the problems as well! I competed with the teachers from Iceland and Norway and we had fun coming up with novel approaches. The judges collected the answers and then one team would be chosen at random to present its solution (each team would present once, chosen at random.) After discussion, I then gave a short juggling show as the judges finalized their scoring, then points were awarded and each team's scorecards updated. We did this 5 times, which means I did 5 shows in total (the first show was juggling one ball, the second show two balls, etc. up to five. The first show was my favorite, I just threw and caught one ball dramatically... the end.)

The mathematics contest was thrilling and real nail-biter. Denmark was slightly ahead the entire contest, only to have Sweden jump to the lead on the last problem. Finally the long goodbyes, the offers to come visit Finald and Iceland and others, and then Ingvill, May and I rolled our suitcases out to catch a downtown train.

We had a late flight out of Copenhagen, and I managed to arrange a meeting with my old friend Henrik. I hadn't seen him for 17 years. How strange to be sitting at an outdoor cafe in Nyhavn with all of the boats on a canal down the middle of the street, having beer with a real viking.

Thank you Demark! I enjoy your country every time.

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