Vincent Li is Palmetto High School’s Silver Knight nominee in the Math category.
“I would have to say I got interested in the problem solving behind math,” he says. “I discovered that I like to use math to solve these problems as a little kid, in fourth grade.”
He goes to Palmetto Middle School on Tuesdays and Thursdays to teach the students competition math and occasionally to Southwood Middle to teach there as well.
Li likens math to cooking.
“A chef knows how to adjust the ingredients,” he says. “The math that you usually learn in middle school and high school merely puts tools in your tool box. I’m trying to teach them how to use the tools to make something greater.”
He uses the analogy that if you were trying to build a table, you’d need an understanding how each tool works.
“How do you use the tools together?” he says. “There are geometry problems you might never be able to do without the correct geometric tools.”
The skills he’s teaching the students extend beyond competition. Li says they can be used in scientific research as well.
“You can’t only follow directions in the lab,” he says. “In college math programs, this is the kind of stuff they do. Some of the things I show them how to do are college level, such as discrete math.”
He uses these skills in the higher-level math and science competitions.
“I try to show non math people the intricacies behind math,” he says. “Math is fascinating. It’s a frontier.”
Li says the students he works with are generally the brightest kids at the school but anyone can come in and listen if they are interested.
He’s also working on having the students give an hour long talk about something they really like. He believes if there is something you love, you want to talk about it so he’s giving them the opportunity to do so.
“I have one kid who is super into astronomy,” he says. “So, I gave a talk on astronomy.
How did we calculate the distance from the Earth to the Moon? Using Spherical Geometry and Trigonometry. It was satisfying to see her engage.”
At Palmetto, Li is a member of Mu Alpha Theta, the math honor society. He participates in math competitions.
“The big award I’ve gotten is qualification for the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME),” he says. “Over 75,000 people take the open exam. If you score well enough, in the top 2.5 percent, you get an invitation. I have qualified for the invitational exam every year since eighth grade.”
In just three hours he answered 11 out of 15 questions correctly on the short response test.
“That’s grueling,” he says. “The exam is very difficult. The median score is 4 or 5 out of 15.”
His score was in the top 300.
“Hopefully I will qualify again this year,” he says.
Li is generous with his time, available to any student who has a math question.
“Anyone who wants my help can ask for it freely,” he says.
Li is a member of the Science National Honor Society and the Social Science Honor Society.
He participates in competitions for both clubs including the History Bee, Phys-a-thon, the National Chemistry Olympiad, and Science Bowl.
Li has applied for early action to Caltech. He intends to apply to MIT, the University of Chicago, and Cornell. He plans to study electrical engineering.
“I want to work on computers,” he says. “I want to learn how to teach these things to think.”
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld