Moving mathematics beyond the classroom: Moody’s Mega Math Challenge

Moving mathematics beyond the classroom: Moody’s Mega Math Challenge

M3 Challenge emphasizes the practical implications of math

January 18, 2012

Skill in mathematics has traditionally been associated with being good with numbers. This has led to the conventional wisdom that the answers--and hence, grades--tend to be more clear-cut and unforgiving in math classes, allowing less room for the flair and creativity associated with the humanities where classes are more discussion-based and imaginative.

But it's important to recognize that math isn't always as absolute as it seems. Outside the classroom, the practical implications of math go far beyond cracking a complicated calculus problem. Math is being used to create models for disease therapy, simulations for climate change, and frameworks for financial markets--solving real-world problems whose answers suddenly aren't just numbers or formulas anymore, but rather the basis for making decisions about the future.

So how about giving students a math test where they are judged on the creativity of their ideas and the applicability of their solutions? Or presenting them with questions whose answers pass muster based on their ability to solve actual issues when applied to the real world?

It's this kind of math modeling that forms the basis for Moody's Mega Math (M3) Challenge, a high school applied math contest organized by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and sponsored by The Moody's Foundation. The M3 Challenge combines sound reasoning, creative thinking, genuine issues, and real-world data with the objectivity of hard numbers and mathematics. Participants have answered questions dealing with strategies for Social Security solvency, the job creation effects of the U.S. government's economic stimulus package, best ways to compensate for the census undercount, and options for the allocation of water resources from a major reservoir.

The Internet-based contest gives student teams 14 hours to solve a realistic problem using critical thinking and math-modeling skills, with the help of freely available information from the web or other inanimate resources. Teams submitting the finest solutions, as determined by two rounds of rigorous judging by professional mathematicians, are awarded college scholarships by The Moody's Foundation--a total of $115,000 is up for grabs in 2012. The top six teams are invited to present their winning solutions at Moody's Corporation headquarters in Manhattan where their final rank order is determined by a panel of PhD-level mathematicians. The Challenge is currently open to 29 states in the Eastern United States.

As America works to improve its scientific standing on the world stage, there is a growing emphasis not only to convey the importance of textbook math and science to our younger generation, but also to demonstrate how these subjects are intertwined, useful, and applicative in the real world. This is evident in President Obama's "Educate to Innovate" campaign, the Association of American Universities' initiative to encourage more interactive STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) teaching techniques, and the launching of innovative educational projects by companies like Intel, Exxon, and Boeing.

Such initiatives can equip students with tools that go beyond a strong educational foundation and provide them with the ability to drive innovation and discovery--a concept that the M3 Challenge has understood since its inception in 2006. The objective of the contest, in addition to motivating students to study and pursue careers in applied math, economics, and finance, is that participants take the M3 experience to academia, government, industry, or wherever their careers may take them, and contribute to the larger society.

Registration for the 2012 contest is open until Friday, February 24. Register now!

About the Sponsor

The Moody's Foundation is a charitable foundation established by Moody's Corporation. Moody's is committed to supporting education, in particular the study of mathematics, finance and economics. The Foundation also funds specific initiatives in the areas of health and human services, arts and culture, civic and Economic Development programs. These programs are primarily located in New York City. Grants are also made in San Francisco, California, and London, England. 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 (NYSE: MCO) is the parent company of Moody's Investors Service, which provides credit ratings and research covering debt instruments and securities, and Moody's Analytics, which offers leading-edge software, advisory services and research for credit analysis, economic research and financial risk management. The Corporation, which reported revenue of $2 billion in 2010, employs approximately 4,700 people worldwide and maintains a presence in 27 countries. Further information is available at

About the Organizer

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, is an international society of over 14,000 individual members. These include applied and computational mathematicians and computer scientists, as well as other scientists and engineers. Members are researchers, educators, students, and practitioners from 85 countries in industry, government, laboratories, and academia. The Society, which also includes nearly 500 academic and corporate institutional members, 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. SIAM provides many opportunities for students including regional sections and student chapters. Further information is available at

Reporters are free to use this text as long as they acknowledge SIAM.

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