All around me, I hear the universal comments of “I hate math” or “Math is so hard!” and truth be told, I’ve been known to say the same things all the time. Which is why it was shocking to my math teacher, my friends, and myself when I voluntarily joined my friend’s team for the MathWorks Math Modeling (M^3) Challenge, where you have to do practical, problem solving math for 14 hours.
The M^3 Challenge was introduced to my Dual Enrollment math class and at first, I had no interest. Math is not my favorite subject by a long shot, it was 14 hours, and I just didn’t think it was right for me. And then my math teacher directly asked me to be on my best friend’s team. Not wanting to disappoint my teacher and friend, I joined the team. This turned into one of the best things I’ve ever done and I am now excited to participate next year with the same team.
We had had only a month to practice as a full team, which obviously did not help us during the actual competition. In the 14 hours, we had to solve a relevant, real world problem that current mathematicians were struggling to solve like the building of an appropriate amount of hospitals or coming up with a healthy, cheap school lunch plan. I had personally never encountered math like this. I was so used to equations and theories that I did forget that math has practical applications that you don’t see much in a classroom.
On May 6th, the first of three days you were able to pick a 14-hour timeslot to complete the problem, my team and I settled into a room with five laptops, an iPad, several phones, calculators, pencils, paper, and a ton of food. The other team was two rooms down to prevent any cheating. This year’s released problem was all about reducing and reusing food waste (1). Unfortunately, my team hadn’t planned out our time very well and spent a whopping 8 hours on the first problem. Also unfortunate was the lack of knowledge in statistical math that caused to have no means of answering the second problem. This all culminated in a rushed 3rd part, however, what we did accomplish felt good. Our feedback came back a bit later and it was revealed that we had had a coherent argument that, had we been able to solve the second part and work better on the third, would have been a viable solution. Because of this challenge, my school has founded an official mathematics team that my group is the spearhead of! We are already looking into practice for next year.
I highly recommend high school juniors and seniors to participate in this challenge. It gives people, even those who hate math, a way to apply it practically. This is what you can use math for, not just classroom problems. It’s a wonderful way to bond with current friends, or even new friends. There were lots of laughs and “fights” to be had throughout the day. If you’re looking for something interesting and educational to do at the end of your school year, I suggest looking at the MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge!
(1). 2018 Problem: https://m3challenge.siam.org/practice-problems/2018-challenge-problem-better-ate-never-reducing-wasted-food
Overall M^3 site: https://m3challenge.siam.org/