Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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8-Feb-2012

Contact: Karthika Muthukumaraswamy
karthika@siam.org
267-350-6383
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics

What to love about Moody's Mega Math Challenge

And why to participate in the 2012 contest -- registration is open until Feb. 24

While most typical teenagers are relaxing, shopping, going to the movies, or hanging out with friends, thousands of their peers will spend the first weekend in March analyzing and modeling a complex, real-world issue using the power of mathematics. Participants in Moody's Mega Math Challenge, these students will be competing for a share of $115,000 in scholarship prizes to be awarded by The Moody's Foundation in April.

Now in its seventh year, the Challenge is free and currently open to high schools in 29 states in the Eastern United States. Organized by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), it gives eleventh and twelfth graders, working in teams of three to five, just 14 hours to attempt to solve an open-ended, applied math-modeling problem focused on a relevant issue. The top six teams—chosen after two intense rounds of judging—will travel to Moody's Manhattan offices to present their findings to an expert panel of PhD-level mathematicians and receive their awards.

What makes them do it? And what do they get out of taking the Challenge?

An understanding of the real-world value of math: 'How and when will I need to use this in real life?' is a common question encountered in math classes. The truth is, we use math every day—in digital databases, social networks, demographic studies, disease therapies, sports rankings, and the like—though we don't always see it. The M3 Challenge gives students first-hand experience not only in seeing how math is used for real applications, but also in implementing it in their analyses and solutions."What we do in homework for our classes is all theoretical – none of it ever seems to have any relevance. But [for the Challenge], we were using real data, we were using huge public data sets and finding relevant, up-to-the-minute conclusions. It's nice to see that," said Matthew Warshauer, whose team from High Technology High School won the top prize in 2009.

An opportunity to be creative with math: After the endless hours spent on tedious lessons, textbook exercises, and competitive exams, the Challenge allows students to use math in innovative and practical ways as they devise models, develop formulas, and sometimes even write computer programs to tackle a genuine issue. Most importantly, it allows them to be creative. "You have to be comfortable trying something that's very different from what you've done before. You have to think outside the box," says Sean Scott from Ridgefield High School, whose team won the runner-up prize in 2011.

The chance to find math in unlikely places: The Challenge problem may pertain to any area or field of study. One of the requisites for the solution, however, is to use mathematical models to solve it. Working on a problem for 14 hours reveals math to participants in ways they don't usually encounter in school. "One of the great things about this competition is you get a problem that might not be something you thought would apply to math," says Allison Collins from last year's Ridgefield High School team. "It teaches you that anything can be quantified."

There's something for everyone: The varied areas that contest questions tend to encompass allow every participant to use his or her skills and strengths in the resolution of the question—thus teaching students important lessons in dividing and managing tasks. "We separated the problem based on who was interested in what," explains James Gibson of T. R. Robinson High School, fourth place winner in the 2011 contest. "Two of us were interested in computer programming and did that part, two of us really love research and did that portion—it was really a natural division."

The prospect of exploring career options in math: Having the opportunity to understand how mathematics can be applied gives high schoolers a sense of how math could be used in future careers. As Jonathan Choi of Staples High School, which placed sixth in the 2009 contest, put it, "The Challenge definitely piqued my interest in applied math and I now know that I really like mathematics so much that I want to pursue it as a career."

It's more than a contest: The Challenge brings together students with varying personalities and skills, working under a tight deadline with limited resources toward a common goal—thus helping build camaraderie and team spirit among members. In other words, it's a great life experience, as Dan Strivelli, a 2010 participant from Ocean Township High School, says. "In life, you have memories that live with you forever. Knowing how much fun I had doing the competition with my friends, I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys math and/or critical thinking."

The next Challenge will take place March 3—4, 2012. Registration is open until February 24.

Register now! http://m3challenge.siam.org/participate/

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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, and 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 www.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 www.siam.org.

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