Edmonton Journal

Math exams = summer fun
City whiz will represent Canada at Math Olympiad
Keith Gerein, Journal Staff Writer
Edmonton Journal
John Lucas, The Journal / Robert Barrington Leigh will help defend Canada's honour next month at the International Mathematical Olympiad in Glasgow, Scotland.

For most high school students, the prospect of a summer filled with math exams would be too terrible to contemplate.

Robert Barrington Leigh isn't a typical student.

The 16-year-old Edmontonian is off to Glasgow, Scotland, next month to help defend Canada's honour at the International Mathematical Olympiad. Six high school students from around the country were selected for the national team, beating out more than 200,000 others in local, provincial and national math competitions.

"I'm very excited," said Barrington Leigh, who attends Old Scona Academic high school. "This is something I've been looking forward to for awhile. I've liked math ever since I was little."

Once in Scotland, Barrington Leigh and his teammates will face 450 of the world's best math students from more than 80 countries. Competitors will be required to take two exams, each 41/2 hours in length, which will be judged by an international jury of mathematicians.

The exams cover subjects that are part of the regular high school curriculum such as geometry, algebra and trigonometry.

"But the questions are incredibly hard," said Daryl Tingley, a professor at the University of New Brunswick who oversees the committee that selects the Canadian competitors.

"Most of us teaching in university would not want to take these exams. The students have to go on pure talent and, of course, lots of practice. These kids have been practising for this for many years."

In Barrington Leigh's case, his training began as a small child, learning about the world of numbers from his father.

By the time he reached Grade 6, he was involved in competitions through a math club at the University of Alberta. Last December, he attended a math training camp for the Olympiad. As soon as school ends, he will be off for two more camps in Ontario and Newfoundland before leaving for Scotland.

All that is in addition to the time he spends at home every day working on math problems for fun.

"I'd like to be better at geometry," said the modest Grade 11 student, who has already completed his school's International Baccalaureate math program.

His math teacher, Lorne Pascoe, said he has not seen a more gifted math student in his 17 years at Old Scona.

"Robert's in a class by himself. He is very good at problem solving, able to bring a number of approaches to a problem," he said, noting his star pupil almost always scores 100 per cent on his school math exams.

Despite his exceptional ability, Barrington Leigh "is a real low-key individual," Pascoe said. "You wouldn't know he's into these kind of competitions."

In his spare time, Barrington Leigh can be found cross-country skiing or jogging on local pathways. He also plays piano and works as a lighting and sound technician during school plays. But there's no doubt about his first love.

"Math is beautiful," he said.

"It has complexity that is unimaginable. It's amazing because we're looking at the same things that they could have been looking at 1,000 years ago and in the future ... the same incredible structure."

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