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Students take on Math Challenge

Posted on Saturday, March 5, 2016 by for Media, Miscellaneous.

Scholarships ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 will be awarded to the victors of the 2016 Moody’s Mega Math Challenge. Ten Midwood students competed nationally against other high schools in two teams of five, held on February 27 and 28.

Annually, Moody’s Mega Math Challenge (also known as the M3) organized by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) tests the intelligence and creativity of high school juniors and seniors. Each high school can have two teams of three to five students who solve a task that challenges their knowledge in applied mathematics. The team has 14 consecutive hours to submit a solution electronically. The papers of the top six teams are posted on the M3 website, each receiving prizes, in which the first place team receives $20,000. The top six finalist teams in the Challenge will be invited to Moody’s Corporation headquarters in Manhattan to present their papers for the final confirmation phase of judging.

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"The M3 Challenge allows students a chance to experience a timely and relevant challenge that requires mathematical modeling and analysis to find a solution," said Ms. Linda Grabowski, the teacher coach for this challenge. "It helps promote STEM education and shows the value of math to solve problems like this. It enables students to experience the challenges that an applied mathematician or someone in a related career choice might face."

This year’s task was focused on car sharing companies and their potential profits, such as Zipcar and Uber. The team members had to generate mathematical and logistical models to present their solution.

Midwood’s first team was made up of seniors Irla Belli, Zhivko Evtimov, Boris Arbuzov, Elizabeth Krazner, and junior Michael Grandel. The second team was made up of juniors Zainab Jamil, Elizabeth Skapley, Jennifer Phu, Nomon Mohammad, and Zainab Salahudin.

Both teams had a similar opinion about the problem, which was deemed to be abstract and diverted from past examples. For example, the 2015 question dealt with college tuition and future success, and the 2014 question dealt with lunch cost and nutrition values.

"I thought that the challenge was very thought provoking and allowed for many theoretical analyses to be made," said Belli. "However, it really tested our capabilities since there was less conventional math involved than we hoped. Since that was the case, we were somewhat caught off guard by the challenge but attempted to seize the moment and work together to produce a solution paper. We approached the problem logically while staying in Starbucks for 11 hours and then going to a friend’s house for the remaining three hours."

These real world problems are normally tackled by experienced applied mathematicians, but this competition presents these problems to students who are expected to provide a solution in 14 hours. This requires versatility from the competitors that is normally present in the mathematicians. Therefore, the inexperience of the competitors promotes dilemmas within the group.

Ms. Grabowski said, "The M3 challenge promotes team-work and brainstorming to come up with many ideas and concepts, but the group has to come to an agreement on one method of attack for their shared solution within the time allocated."

Arbuzov confirmed this, revealing the issues his team faced. He said, "In my opinion, a big issue was a lack of direction from the group. Being previously unexposed to such problems, we struggled to figure out a set plan. This lead to confusion within the group about what we were researching and disagreements of approach. Overall, this culminated in a large loss of time."

The math challenge can also be a representation of how high school prepares their students for the real world. This math challenge exemplifies the high school educational system based on how malleable the students are when it comes to applying what they’ve learned. The competitors from Midwood seem to have contradicting views as to how Midwood’s curriculum prepares them for these situations.

"Midwood prepared us because of the tasks that we do in our classrooms," said Salahudin. "We were taught how to effectively manage our time while working cooperatively with our team. Our end results incorporate our hard work and ideas that came from everyone in the group."

Some students thought otherwise. For example, Evtimov said. "After participating in the challenge, I believe Midwood does not prepare students well enough to survive in real world occupations. Our curriculum is based on the New York State Regents exams, Common Core agenda and the AP exams. None of the classes actually helped us approach this question."

Written by Michael Grandel and Olga Savuk (Class of 2017).
This article originally appeared in the March 2016 edition of Argus.

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