It was late April and the halls were buzzing at Clearwater Fundamental Middle School.
Word was out that students who entered Raytheon Corp.'s MathMovesU competition had done quite well — again.
"That was a pretty exciting day, as we started to get e-mails and phone calls from parents as the parents started to let us know," said Dave Rosenberger, the school's principal.
In all, Clearwater Fundamental had 28 winners of $1,000 scholarships in the national competition — exceeding by four the total won by the school's students last year.
What's more, Safety Harbor Middle School had eight winners and Dunedin Highland Middle School had seven. Those 43 total scholarships mean North Pinellas students earned nearly 29 percent of the 150 scholarships awarded nationwide.
Clearwater Fundamental had the highest number of winners of any school in this year's contest, according to Jennifer Chan, manager of community relations at Raytheon.
"That's a large number, but I guess it's just a testament to the math teachers within that school district that they can make math fun," she said.
Raytheon, a technology company that specializes in defense and homeland security, developed the nationwide MathMovesU initiative to engage middle school students in math by helping them see the link between the subject and their interests and hobbies.
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Each student was asked to answer the question "How does MATH put the action in your passion?" based on a multimedia or paper submission. The winners received $1,000 scholarships, which can be used for a math, science, technology camp or program or saved for college.
Nick Fatolitis, a seventh-grader from Clearwater Fundamental, was in the middle of building an outdoor classroom at the school for his Eagle Scout project when he decided to use the same project for the scholarship contest.
The 12-year-old created a PowerPoint presentation and used concepts like area and volume to show how math was used in his project.
He said he was excited when he won and plans to use the money for college.
Alexandria Calandro, 13, centered her presentation on jewelrymaking. The seventh-grader wanted to make her project different from the rest of her peers and created a PowerPoint presentation with images of herself measuring the lengths of beads she had made.
Winning was even sweeter because she had entered but hadn't won in 2009.
"It just taught me to try harder at what I do and not just try to get it done as fast as you can so you can just go and be done with it," she said.
One day, 12-year-old Austin Klein's family was playing Monopoly and soon realized how it incorporated math. The seventh-grader chose the game as his concept and created a movie with help from his mom.
"I showed the shape of the board and with the property cards and how much money you had to pay, I did math problems with those," he said.
It was Austin's second straight scholarship win. Last year, he won for a presentation on soccer.
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In addition to the scholarships, Raytheon also awarded the students' school a matching grant to support math-related equipment, materials and expenses that would enhance a school's math department. That means Clearwater Fundamental will get $28,000, which will come in handy, Rosenberger said.
He said the school is adopting a new math textbook "and with the district funds being incredibly limited, this will help us to support the new curriculum from top to bottom."
Rosenberger said the school also plans to buy new equipment such as SMART Boards, electronic devices and computer software and hardware that can help support the math curriculum.
Rosenberger said middle school students often have a difficult time applying what they learn in school into real-life use, and the MathMoves U program helps them do so.
Bridget Bohnet, math department co-chair, said the school is proud of the students.
"We're delighted that they're able to participate and actually benefit and learn something from it as well," she said.
Rosenberger said the scholarship winners are a rather eclectic group: athletes, readers and others interested in science and sports.
"They don't even think about it and they just all of a sudden are doing math problems or using what they've been taught in school to support an interest outside of math," he said.
"I think that's what Raytheon is trying to do with engineering. When people think of engineering, they have a preconceived notion — so now it's getting kids to think outside the box."