Successful math modeling isn’t just about math

Successful math modeling isn’t just about math

M3 Challenge provides a fun, unique learning experience for high school math modelers

February 9, 2016

The idea of math modeling sounds hard. After all, you have to create your own solution rather than applying one you memorized in class. But that’s where the fun comes in, and the real learning too. Moody’s Mega Math (M3) Challenge provides an opportunity for students to work in teams to come up with their own unique solutions to a timely, realistic problem. And while math is obviously an important component of the annual competition, successful modelers often enlist a combination of experiences and skills to do well.

“Modeling requires mathematics, but it also requires a knowledge of the world that comes from outside math class---some computer programming; some knowledge of economics and the social, biological, and physical sciences; and the ability to write clearly and persuasively to explain your work and results to others,” says Daniel J. Teague, Ph.D.  Instructor of Mathematics at North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. “Explaining complicated ideas and processes concisely and convincingly comes from English and other humanities classes as well as the lab reports in science and other writing experiences.” 

Teague, who coached two of the six teams that presented their findings at the M3 Challenge 2015 Finals at Moody’s Foundation headquarters in New York City last April, says he encourages his students to have fun and enjoy the unique opportunity to work collaboratively on a problem they have likely never considered before. His advice and his teams’ hard work paid off: they finished in first and second place last year, beating out more than 6,000 students and taking home scholarship prizes of $20,000 and $15,000 respectively.

Another team that has enjoyed success in M3 Challenge is 2015 third place finisher Elk River High School from Minnesota. Teacher-coach Curtis Michener says that this year’s group has been inspired by the success of last year’s team and “is attacking this year's contest like they can be a top contender.” They have been using the M3 website and the freely available handbook Math Modeling: Getting Started and Getting Solutions to prepare. While the idea of the trip to NYC, the recognition, and the scholarship money is motivating, Michener stresses the importance of preparation and advises schools that are new to the competition to encourage their kids to review the handbook and let their students know that---no matter what---the experience they share with their group that day will be a positive one.

The handbook to which Michener refers is a beautifully-illustrated, full-color publication that provides instructions and a process for building mathematical models using a variety of examples to answer wide-ranging questions. "Many participants don’t have access to or formal instruction in the basic resources necessary to create a successful model," says M3 Challenge Project Director Michelle Montgomery. "So we came up with the handbook to give every participant good tools and ways to get started working through the modeling process." PDFs are available for free download at and print copies are available for $15 by contacting SIAM at +1-215-382-9800 or toll-free 800-447-SIAM (US and Canada).

Other free resources available to participants are software tools from MathWorks and Wolfram, which provide licenses and online instruction to registered teams.

“[M3 Challenge] is such a fantastic experience, but making it to the finals is not easy,” says Teague. “There are many very talented teams, so the experience of the finals can’t be the only reason to compete. The students compete because the mathematical challenge that modeling offers is a lot of fun. They enjoy the process.” He adds, “For some, participating in M3 Challenge is the highlight of the school year, whether they score highly or not.”

For the six teams that come up with a modeling solution good enough to land them an all-expenses paid trip to NYC and the opportunity to present their findings to a panel of professional judges, Michener says “[they] are in for a special time. It was eye-opening to the students and myself as to the possibilities that are out there for them.”

As a bonus this year, the winning team will ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange following the Final event.

If you or someone you know is up for the Challenge, learn more or register here:


About the Sponsor
Built on the recognition that a company grows stronger by helping others, The Moody’s Foundation works to enhance its communities and the lives of its employees by providing grants and engaging in community service in local neighborhoods. The Moody’s Foundation, established in 2002 by Moody’s Corporation, partners with nonprofit organizations to support initiatives such as education in the fields of mathematics, finance, and economics, as well as workforce development, civic affairs, and arts and culture. For more information, please visit

About the Organizer
The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is an international society of over 14,000 individual members, including applied and computational mathematicians and computer scientists, as well as other scientists and engineers. Members from 85 countries are researchers, educators, students, and practitioners 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

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