High school students find solutions to real-world issues—mathematically

High school students find solutions to real-world issues—mathematically

November 1, 2010

Registration now open for 2011 contest

From breaking down the numbers behind the U.S. Census to figuring out the effect of the stimulus package to assessing the unintended consequences of increased ethanol use, Moody's Mega Math Challenge contenders have done it all.

And there's a brand new exciting problem coming their way in March.

Registration for Moody's Mega Math (M3) Challenge 2011 opens today. And we're excited! Over the past five years, the Challenge has grown from 129 teams in the New York City metro area to 633 teams from the entire East Coast. Scholarship prizes have risen from $67,500 in 2006 to $100,000 this year.

With so much focus on exams and test scores these days, Moody's Mega Math Challenge sets out to remind high schoolers that math is more than just problems in a text book. Teams are required to solve an open-ended, applied math-modeling problem focused on a real-world issue in 14 hours. The Challenge is entirely Internet-based, and students are allowed to use free, publicly available, inanimate sources of information. Solutions are judged based on the approach and methods used, and the creativity displayed in problem-solving and math-modeling. There is no unique, correct answer and partial solutions are accepted.

The next Challenge weekend will be March 5-6, 2011. There are no entrance or participation fees and each high school may enter up to two teams of three to five students each. Scholarship prizes totaling $100,000 will be awarded to winning students toward the pursuit of higher education. The problem is completely unknown to teams until they login on their selected Challenge day at 7:00 a.m., after which they will have until 9 p.m. that night to research the question, analyze their findings, develop a model, and submit their answer in the form of a solution paper, which is uploaded to the Challenge website.

As Andrew Das Sarma of Montgomery Blair High School (MD)--whose team won the top prize in the 2010 Challenge--puts it, "This contest is much more open-ended than your standard math competition. It's not ‘just solve the problem and fill out the answer.' You have to write a very long paper, so you have a lot more freedom to really go in-depth with the problem." His teammate, Jacob Hurwitz, echoes this point, "I've never done a math competition that was open-ended and applied math to something real like the census. Most of the time, it's math that nobody cares about; it's just sort of some abstract concept."

The goal of this real-world focus is to introduce students to applied math as a powerful problem-solving tool, and potentially, as a viable and exciting profession. It's little surprise then, that the Challenge has helped many participants in making decisions to pursue careers in mathematics.

"Moody's Mega Math Challenge is an excellent venue for students to apply critical thinking skills to real life problems that have immediate relevancy," says Raymond Eng, a teacher-coach at High Technology High School (NJ), whose teams have found success in every past contest. "[It] gives students the opportunity to show off what they have learned and mastered, and provides a reason and rationale to further their education."

The excitement doesn't end with the Challenge weekend for many of the prize recipients. Past Challenge winners have appeared on national cable news shows, been interviewed by radio talk show hosts, have had their papers published in peer-reviewed research publications, and have even been invited by the experts themselves to present their findings.

"The fact that this competition is at a high enough level that the winning paper could be published really says something about the contest and also the level of competitors," says Jacob Hurwitz, whose team's winning paper was published in SIAM Undergraduate Research Online (SIURO) earlier this year.

The Challenge is funded by The Moody's Foundation and organized by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). 

About the Sponsor

The Moody's Foundation is a charitable organization dedicated to supporting a variety of nonprofit education, health and human services, civic, and arts and culture programs. Established by Moody's Corporation in 2001, the Foundation's primary area of giving is secondary and higher education with a focus on mathematics, economics, and finance. Further information is available at philanthropy.moodys.com.

Moody's is an essential component of the global capital markets, providing credit ratings, research, tools and analysis that contribute to transparent and integrated financial markets. Moody's Corporation is the parent company of Moody's Investors Service and Moody's Analytics, which encompasses the growing array of Moody's non-ratings businesses. The Corporation, which reported revenue of $1.8 billion in 2009, employs approximately 4,100 people worldwide and maintains a presence in 26 countries. Further information is available at www.moodys.com.

About the Organizer

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), headquartered in Philadelphia, serves and advances the disciplines of applied mathematics and computational science by publishing a variety of books and prestigious peer-reviewed research journals, by conducting conferences, and by hosting activity groups in various areas of mathematics. It is an international society of over 13,000 applied and computational mathematicians and computer scientists, as well as other scientists and engineers. Members are researchers, educators, students, and practitioners from 90 countries working in industry, government, laboratories, and academia. The Society, which also includes nearly 500 academic and corporate institutional members, SIAM provides many opportunities for students including regional sections and student chapters. Further information is available at www.siam.org.

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