Moody’s Mega Math Challenge: More than Math

Moody’s Mega Math Challenge: More than Math

February 7, 2017

Creativity. Teamwork. Outside-the-box thinking. The ability to write and communicate effectively. Not necessarily the first things that come to mind when you think of math, are they? Think again! In Moody’s Mega Math (M3) Challenge students must bring together a wide range of skills to provide insight into an open-ended math modeling problem and present their findings in the form of a written solution paper. Many of the most successful teams—those that take home $150,000 in scholarships—are comprised of students who are “good at math” but also willing to do research, brainstorm, and try things that may be outside their comfort zone.

Modeling is a process that uses math to represent, analyze, make predictions, and provide insight into real-world phenomena. Building a useful math model does not necessarily require advanced mathematics—students at all levels can model using the math that they already know or the free resources, including software, available on the M3 Challenge website. And in this math contest, a team’s ability to explain how they arrived at their solution often carries as much weight as the model itself!

“The goal of modeling is not necessarily to construct the most accurate model, and it is definitely not about constructing the most complicated model, but rather to construct the simplest model possible that still captures the essential, overall behavior of the system,” says Kelly Black, professor of mathematics at University of Georgia, Athens, and M3 Challenge judge for the past eight years. “The team’s model and their analysis of the model are important, but their exploration and their insights and predictions are more important than the models themselves.”

Brainstorming at the beginning of the project is an essential part of the modeling process as it helps reveal different directions that the math model can take. By being creative and open-minded, students can look at the same problem and have different perspectives into its resolution, allowing them to come up with valid alternative solutions. In fact, M3 judges welcome and reward creativity when reviewing solutions. “One of the things we as judges enjoy most is seeing what teams decide is most important in the problem and what method they use to solve it,” says Black.

As teams define their variables and build their model, they look to their personal toolkits when deciding which math and techniques to use. Nidhi Palwayi, a former student at Rutgers Preparatory School in Somerset, NJ, who appears in the “What is Mat­h Modeling” video series on the M3 website says, “What we found that we used most in our model was Algebra 2—Algebra 1 even—which is interesting because it shows that we revert to what is most comfortable.”

When it comes time to write everything up as a polished solution paper, teams should keep in mind that this step is just as important as the effort it took to get to this point. “Judges understand that teams are working under a strict time constraint and that submitting a complete solution and report is nearly impossible,” says Black. “It is therefore imperative that teams include a complete and well written summary and provide discussion of all aspects of the question if possible.” 

For many students like Nidhi, M3 Challenge is a unique opportunity to put all of the skills they have been honing throughout high school into a fun and exciting 14-hour “taste” of what they will encounter in the real world. They begin to realize the value of this experience as they move on to college and careers—whether they are math-related or not—because the ability to think logically, solve problems, and collaborate in a team environment is a great foundation for future success.

Registration for M3 Challenge is open until Friday, February 17, 2017. The free, Internet-based contest, which is sponsored by The Moody’s Foundation and organized by Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, will begin Friday, February 24, at 12:00 p.m. EST and end Monday, February 27, at 8:00 a.m. EST. Teams may choose any continuous 14-hour period to work during that time frame. The contest is open to juniors and seniors

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