M3 Challenge Mimics Time Constraints of Real-World Math Professions

M3 Challenge Mimics Time Constraints of Real-World Math Professions

January 13, 2016

For most people, time constraints are part of everyday life -- in the workplace, at school, in sports, and even at home. Moody’s Mega Math (M3) Challenge is an applied math competition for junior and senior high school students that requires them to use modeling to solve a realistic problem within a 14-hour time frame. The strict time constraint of the competition mimics many professional environments and shows students how critical time management skills are when solving real-world problems, specifically in STEM professions.

“Engineers and computer scientists are always facing time constraints. Missing a product shipment deadline could doom the launch of a product in this rapidly changing, high-tech world,” according to M3 Challenge judge Dan Connors, who knows first-hand how time pressures can affect and challenge math in STEM careers.

 As a member of the Cognitive Computing Research team at IBM, Connors helps business customers by making data available and developing models and approaches for solving their problems. He uses tools such as mathematical programming, combinatorial optimization, and simulation, while also dealing with machine learning, and statistics.

Connors says that in addition to handling time constraints in the M3 Challenge (much like what is experienced in many STEM professions) --- it requires leveraging ones’ math skills or even developing new ones. While formulating and developing models, assumptions and approximations may need to be used in order to meet the deadline. Then, math skills are needed to prove or justify those assumptions or approximations.

“If my model is providing a weather forecast for four hours from now, it certainly won't be very useful if my algorithm takes more than four hours to run;  in fact, the forecasting algorithm may not be very useful if it takes more than an hour to solve,” says Connors.

Working within time constraints helps Connors develop solutions in a manageable way. Running and solving a mathematical model takes time, but estimating and assessing the needs of the customer and the time it takes to solve a problem will ultimately help Connors realize how to solve a problem. When math data in the real world is not available in a timely manner, which is often the case, Connors uses his math skills to create “synthetic” or representative data in order to have substance for an input, so the model can simulate testing until real data becomes available.

The ability to work successfully within the 14-hour time constraint imposed by the M3 Challenge could help bolster participant’s problem-solving skills, according to Connors. “Time constraints, as well as resource constraints and budget constraints, force us to prioritize our work, focus on the key issues and make judicious approximations and assumptions.” “Dealing effectively with time constraints forces one to work the practicalities of those constraints into the model development, data handling, and solution algorithms.”

The M3 Challenge helps students understand the importance of using data acquisition, analysis, and preparation while realizing that these skills take time. With the help of tools like the Math Modeling Handbook and modeling software, M3 Challenge competitors can develop skills they might not normally have the opportunity to consider within pure math curriculums. Although the time constraint is one of the Challenge’s major obstacles, it is also one of the most crucial real-world lessons the competition has to offer. With this experience, the M3 Challenge gives students insight to prepare for real-world STEM careers.

If you or someone you know is up for the Challenge, learn more or register here: m3challenge.siam.org/participate.

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 www.philanthropy.moodys.com.

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 http://www.siam.org.

 

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