“When would you ever use this in real life?”
What teacher or parent hasn’t heard the protests of a student struggling to grasp a new concept? And how refreshing when the answer can be demonstrated by someone whose career is built on that skill.
For the last 21 years, Montana BLM surveyors have done just that through Trig-Star, a high school competition based on the practical application of trigonometry. The program demonstrates how professional surveyors use mathematics, then challenges students to solve a four-part survey problem. The student who most quickly finds the correct answers is declared the Trig-Star. Cash prizes and scholarships are awarded to winners at the local, regional, state, and national levels. Additionally, regional winners in Montana receive a calculator donated by Selby’s Essco, a survey supply company in Billings.
BLM surveyors Randy Thomas and Craig Frichtl introduced Trig-Star in Montana in 1989 through a Career Day event at four Billings-area high schools. In 1990, the Montana Association of Registered Land Surveyors (MARLS) launched a state Math-Star competition. In 1994, MARLS and the BLM joined forces. The program has spread to more than 30 states, with Montana being one of the first. It is sponsored nationally by the National Society of Professional Surveyors; on the state level by MARLS; and locally by MARLS and the BLM.
This year, 694 students from 22 Montana high schools took the Trig-Star test. Two students scored 100 percent, but the fastest (in just under 48 minutes) was Spencer Hopkins, a junior at C.M. Russell High School in Great Falls. Hopkins will take the national test later this summer.