Charlie Stoddard remembers asking his mother to buy him math books as a 5-year-old.
He has spent good chunks of the summer studying math textbooks at the library. Now a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Steamboat Springs Middle School, Stoddard is studying differential equations, coursework that math majors usually take in the second semester of their sophomore years in college.
"It's fun to manipulate the numbers and just see how the physical world works around you," he said, "because everything is based on math."
Stoddard's mathematical intrigue has earned him a unique honor -- the highest score of all Colorado eighth-graders on the American Math--ematics Contest 10. The competitive test is given to top math students in the 10th grade and lower.
There are several levels of the American Mathematics Contest -- the 8, 10 and 12 levels -- as well as an invitational and Olympiad through which the highest scoring students can compete internationally.
Stoddard also participated in the invitational exam, in which students have three hours to solve 15 problems. The average score is two. Stoddard scored six, but did not score high enough to move on. His goal is to score nine next year and qualify for the next level.
Although Stodd--ard's talents in math are unique for his age, he isn't consumed by it.
"He's such a nice kid to everyone," middle school teacher Wendy Hall said. "He's really, really humble."
He doesn't talk about math much with his friends or even his parents. He doesn't know a lot of people who would understand what he's studying.
But prod him to explain the math concepts he's learning, and he is quick to give examples of how math relates to real life, such as discovering black holes or tracking how reservoirs fill with water.
Stoddard likes the gray areas that appear in higher levels of math, such as set theory and other "crazy stuff," as he calls it.
Stoddard's ev----entual goal is to become a surgeon, but for now he is focused on enjoying being an eighth-grader. That means keeping his mathematical interest in perspective.
"You can't really think too much about that stuff, or you get lost in what's really going on," he said. Too much focus on math could mean missing out on "what life has to offer."
For Stoddard, that includes competing in running and Nordic combined events, playing piano and studying a range of subjects, from science to writing.
"I think it gives me a better world experience," he said.
-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org