Tag Archives: Moody’s Mega Math Challenge

Bloomberg Hails Staples

Recently, “06880” reported on the Staples students who finished 5th — out of nearly 1,000 high school teams — in the Moody’s Mega Math Challenge. All they had to do was figure a way to salvage America’s inter-city rail system. In 14 hours.

Turns out they’re as articulate as they are bright.

On Bloomberg Radio’s “Taking Stock” show the other day, 3 team members talked about the Moody’s competition, the US transportation systemt, and the state of 21st-century education. Unlike most people interviewed on radio — myself included — they rocked it.

Staples Mega Mathletes (from left): Matt Silver, David Haswell, Connie Zhou, Robert Perry, Michael Menz.

They were clear. They were direct. And they were honest. Asked to describe their “failures,” they cited their inability to find the cost of raw materials and prevailing wages in some parts of the country.

Of course, as Robert Perry said, “You can only do so much in 14 hours.”

Interviewer Pimm Fox noted that he and Staples math instructor/Moody’s advisor Trudy Denton “never did this in high school.” Trudy replied that Staples’ focus on real-world, problem-solving math encourages students to leap into areas like this.

Pimm was impressed that Perry plans a business/engineering major at the University of Michigan, and that fellow interviewees David Haswell and Connie Zhou are headed to Harvard.

Team members Matt Silver and Michael Menz were not interviewed. No, they were not slacking off.

They had another appointment: a New England championship math meet.

To hear the entire Bloomberg radio interview, click below:

Staples’ Mega Mathletes

First there were nearly 1,000 teams — and 5,000 students, from 29 states — vying for $115,000 in prizes in the Moody’s Mega Math Challenge.

Next — after more than 100 noted mathematicians pored over their papers — only 134 teams were left. That was then whittled down to 55.

Now there are 6.

And one is Staples.

Seniors David Haswell, Robert Perry, Matt Silver and Connie Zhou, plus junior Michael Menz, are now hard at work. On April 26 they’ll make a presentation before a panel of Ph.D.-level applied mathematicians, at the Manhattan headquarters of Moody’s Corporation.

Either Staples — or a school from New Jersey, Massachusetts, North Carolina or Florida — will be crowned Moody’s Mega Math Challenge champ.

Staples Mega Math stars (from left): Matt Silver, David Haswell, Connie Zhou, Robert Perry, Michael Menz.

The contest involved mathematical modeling. Each team had to identify and rank the best regions in the country for establishing high-speed rail lines, as part of a nationwide network. (Yeah, Congress is currently debating the same thing.)

Math knowledge, critical thinking, research and analytical skills were all part of the puzzle. Participants provided mathematically founded recommendations based on potential ridership numbers, cost of implementation, and effects of the program on foreign energy dependence.

Each team had just 14 hours to receive the issue, study it, collect data, devise models, and upload their solutions in the form of a research paper.

The Challenge is now in its 7th year. Staples has competed all 7 times. The school won it all the 1st year, when it was limited to the tri-state area. They finished 6th in 2009, and in the top 15 in 2008, ’10 and ’11.

The top prize is $20,000. Only 5 other schools stand in Staples’ way.

Not bad for 5 teenagers who spent a 14-hour day solving an issue Congress is also grappling with.

Or — looked at another way — it’s the capstone of their 13 years of school, and a lifetime of observing the world, analyzing and synthesizing information, and loving learning.

And The Winner Is…

…Team 102.

Nick Cion, Annie Harnick, Lexa Koenig, Kat Krieger and Lena Ziskin — all seniors at Staples — won that school’s inaugural Spectacular Student Challenge.

By figuring out which of 3 different strategies — actually, a combination of all 3 — would make Westport greener, they earned the praise of judges, plus the satisfaction of knowing their 12 hours of work could help create a more environmentally friendly town.

Oh yeah.  They also won $5,000.

Lexa Koenig and Lena Ziskin look snug -- but their laptops get a workout midway through the Challenge.

Despite having to plow through a PhD-level question — then research, analyze, synthesize and present their findings in a time frame that would stress a post-doc — the winners took a balanced approach to their task.

They enjoyed a sitdown lunch from Tengda, and also spent a few minutes in the fieldhouse, cheering Staples’ indoor track team at their championship meet.  “We didn’t fry our brains,” Nick says, counterintuitively.

But they must have done something right.

“We saw the importance of innovation, but we also knew we needed a plan that was catchy, accessible, and would appeal to the public at large,” he adds, explaining his group’s success.

They concluded that a 3-pronged strategy is needed.  Solar panels at Staples and Bedford, and carbon reduction would help a bit; so would community-supported agriculture.  But household changes are necessary too.

The group seized on a Brazilian initiative — peeing in the shower to reduce flushes — and estimated that if every Westporter did that once a day, we’d save 11 million gallons of water a year.  That got the judges’ notice (as well as anyone who pees).

After earning finalist status, the team practiced their presentation for a full day.  Other groups were math oriented, but Team 102 focused on communication skills.

“We wanted a presentation that we would want to hear,” Nick says.  “We didn’t talk about numbers; we talked about why all this was important.”

Lunch from Tengda was great -- but a few hours later Team 102 wanted to make sure they had dinner too.

Going into the final presentation, the group had no idea what to expect.  They were eager to see how other teams — some of them veterans of the similar, but math-heavy, Moody’s Mega-Challenge — did.  When the night was over, they felt they’d done well — and were glad their tack was different.

Last Friday, Nick was awakened at 10:20 a.m. — hey, it was a snow day — with word from Kat that their group had won.  He was thrilled, then promptly fell back asleep.

On Monday, Team 102 will accept congratulations — and a fake check — at the Board of Education meeting.

As for the carryover effect of the contest, Nick says:  “I’m already following the household tips we came up with.  It’s amazing how easy it is.”  (Yes, all of them.)

And — for Team 102 — how lucrative.

Stimulus Studies

Will the government’s $787 billion stimulus package actually work?  Who knows?

Actually, 5 Staples students do.

They’re the school’s Moody’s Mega Math Challenge team.  Last month they spent 14 perfectly good Saturday hours devising the answer to a question that has bedeviled Nobel Prize-winning economists, politicians of all stripes, and ordinary human beings like you and me.

Moody's Mega Math Challengers (from left) Naveen Murali, Justin Sherman, Jonathan Choi, Jason Gandelman and Kyle Beatty. (Photo courtesy of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics)

Moody's Mega Math Challengers (from left) Naveen Murali, Justin Sherman, Jonathan Choi, Jason Gandelman and Kyle Beatty. (Photo courtesy of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics)

Starting at 6:45 a.m., the Stapleites — Kyle Beatty, Jonathan Choi, Jason Gandelman, Naveen Murali and Justin Sherman — used mathematical models, reams of research and their own wits and creativity to examine the stimulus from every conceivable angle. 

By nightfall, they had their answer.

Only 2.6 million jobs will be created or saved, they said — short of the 3 million goal. 

A 2nd stimulus plan may be needed, they noted.  The best multiplier effect involves infrastructure projects; that would cost another $100 billion.  If the 2nd plan ceneters on tax cuts, it could reach $180 billion.

Naveen and Kyle explained all this yesterday to WSHU‘s Mark Herz, patiently and clearly.  Listening, I felt confident and assured.  Not about the current economy, mind you — but about the leaders of tomorrow we’re producing today.

And if the Board of Education hires these guys as financial consultants, I’ll really sleep soundly.