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MLWGS to participate in MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge

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Fun. Relevant. Interesting. Motivating. Meaningful. Not the words you’d expect high school students to use when describing…math, but it turns out that when given the opportunity to use math in an open-ended problem about a real issue, and asked to provide insight for informed decisions, students have a lot of good things to say about the subject. Teachers are excited too, as they realize the benefits of applying math to real-world problems in the classroom.

These are the findings of a recent national survey that polled more than 400 high school math teachers and 2,000 students, all coaches or team members who participated in MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge, a national Internet-based contest organized by Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and sponsored by MathWorks. The study found that an overwhelming majority (84 percent) of teacher respondents said they apply math to real-world problems in their classroom to help increase both student interest and understanding, and about 80 percent plan to integrate more real-world problems into their curriculum as a result of the excitement and enthusiasm generated by participating in the Challenge.

M3 Challenge involves thousands of high school juniors and seniors committing 14 consecutive hours on a designated weekend in March to come up with a solution to a multi-faceted and authentic problem using mathematical modeling. Last year’s problem asked students to find solutions to the issue of food insecurity in the U.S., including creating a mathematical model to determine if a state could feed its food-insecure population using its wasted food, and building a second model to determine the amount of food waste a household generates based on its traits and habits. Students then used their models to provide insight into which strategies communities should adopt to repurpose the maximal amount of food at the minimum cost. 

After the Challenge, participants said the topic was interesting, real, and important, and its relevance made researching and working on the problem a lot easier and more fun. One teacher-coach commented that her students were inspired by the usefulness of the task at hand and another praised contest organizers for providing students with “an amazing opportunity to see what math really looks like.”

Over the years, other Challenge problems have focused on a wide variety of issues, including:

  • Is college worth it? What are the total costs and expected earnings and lifestyles across various career paths?
  • Satisfying the caloric and budgetary requirements of school lunches — Can they be nutritious, delicious, and affordable?
  • Plastic waste and recycling — How do you quantify the plastic waste in landfills? What are the best recycling methods for various cities based on relevant variables?

Sponsored by Massachusetts-based MathWorks — a leading developer of mathematical computing software — M3 Challenge spotlights applied mathematics as a powerful problem-solving tool and a viable, exciting profession, awarding $100,000 in scholarship prizes annually. Registration for this year’s Challenge, which takes place March 1-4, is free and is open until February 22. At least 37 teams will receive monetary awards and the top six teams will participate in the final event in New York City on April 29 where the Champion team will be named and awarded $20,000.

Now in its 14th year, M3 Challenge aims to make math relatable and to demonstrate its importance and value in solving complex issues. M3 Challenge is an online contest that has drawn the participation of more than 41,000 students (one-third female), 4,000+ high schools, 5,000+ math teachers, and 400+ Ph.D.-level judges, and has awarded more than $1.3 million in scholarships since its launch in 2006.