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It was a day of some serious thinking as more than 1,000 middle and high school students from 57 Wisconsin schools competed in the sixth annual UW Oshkosh Mathematical Problem-Solving Contest. 

Students, from left, Brenden Buckholtz, Callie Speltz, Hailey Van Eijl, Savannah Foust, Jaycee Lisowski, Nicole Sweno and Kaylee Schultz from Cochrane-Fountain City High School made the 190-mile trek to UWO for the math and problem-solving competition.

The students came from as far as Fountain City, Wisconsin, about 3.5 hours away on the western border of the state, to participate in a day of activities April 30 designed to spark their interest in math and other STEM fields.

Lindsey Johnson, a math teacher at Cochrane-Fountain High School, got up at 3:45 a.m. to meet her students for the 190-mile drive to UW Oshkosh.

“The way I look at it, if the students want to do math, then heck, I’ll drive them,” Johnson said, adding that she also threw in doughnuts as an enticement for the early risers. 

 After checking in, the students, all 7-10th graders, got right to work on the individual competitions. The only sounds heard in the three testing sites – Culver Family Welcome Center, Reeve Union ballroom and Kolf Sports Center – were the occasional pencil being sharpened. After a short break and pep talk from their respective teachers or school chaperones, the students went right back for the team competitions, where they worked in groups of up to four. 

 After the problem-solving competitions, the students had opportunities to explore a variety of activities – from creating an arcade game to examining the earth’s surface features and weather patterns through wind-powered cars and two-liter tornadoes.  

This Mathematical Problem-Solving Contest 2024 video is a compilation of Instagram stories and photos from the April 30, 2024, UWO Mathematical Problem Solving Contest. UWO journalism student Aubrie Selsmeyer and public relations student Brett Clavijo contributing: 


Lindsey Heinz, who brought 24 students to Oshkosh, wants her students to appreciate their ability to think critically.

Grade 8 students Kaylee Behnke and Kaylee Skarda from J.R. Gerritts Middle School in Kimberly, are ready to compete.

“I hope what my students got out of today’s competition is how powerful their thinking is,” said Heinz, who teaches gifted and talented classes at J.R. Gerritts Middle School in Kimberly, WI. “They are creative thinkers, and the world needs people who think creatively.”

Kaylee Behnke, an 8th-grader from J.R. Gerritts Middle, doesn’t yet know what profession she’d like to be in, but she said whatever it is, it would involve using her math skills. “I would like to do something that would challenge me, like math does,” she said. “I’d like to do something that uses my skills to help people, make their lives better.” 

Eric Kuennen, a math professor at UW Oshkosh, enjoys watching the students putting their heads together in the team competition. “They’re standing, talking to each other, they’re arguing,” said Kuennen, who is the mastermind behind the problem-solving event. “That’s really fun to watch them be so engaged.” 

Collaboration on problem-solving is part of the UWO math contest.

 Kuennen and his colleagues developed the problems for the contests, which focus less on specific content knowledge and more on problem-solving skills. This way, middle school students can compete along with the high school students.         

 “I see math as solving problems, puzzles, ” Kuennen said. “A lot of the mathematics that we do in school can be tedious and not so fun. I understand why people don’t like that, but people do like solving problems and figuring out puzzles.” 

Kuennen hopes the students at the event got a taste for what it feels like to be a college student and a glimpse into the array of STEM fields. 

“When people ask, ‘What can I do with a math major, I say, ‘What can’t you do with a math major?’” he said, adding. “Math is all about thinking and problem solving and figuring things out. Those skills are powerful and applicable to a wide range of things.” 

 Learn more: 

Study math at UW Oshkosh

UWO Mathematical Problem Solving Contest