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Two Mayfield teams ready to take on marathon math competition

Our determined teams are assembled and practicing after school in the computer lab. These young statisticians, graphic designers, mathematicians, and research specialists have been training for months for a marathon event on Saturday—14 consecutive hours in which they will solve a real-world issue by applying their math skills to the biggest problems of our time.
These two five-member Mayfield teams will join more than 900 others in the nationwide MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge, a contest designed to demonstrate the power of applied mathematics in real life

“It’s really mind-opening to see the role that math plays in so many issues—social issues, medical issues, politics,” one team member said. “I always thought that math only applied to science and technology. But this work has shown me math is a core part of so many problems in society.”

When our teams open up the contest instructions on Saturday, the mega-task at hand will look nothing like a math problem. Here is the “hint” released in the form of a Haiku by competition authors this week:
Predict influence
What are ramifications?
Jonesing for answers

The national competition is sponsored by the 14,000-member Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics and a total of $100,000 in scholarships is offered to winning teams. Past topics have included: 
  • Is college worth it? What are the total costs and expected earnings and lifestyles of various career paths?
  • Plastic waste and recycling: How do you quantify the plastic waste in landfills and what are the best recycling methods for various cities based on relevant variables?
  • Satisfying the caloric and budgetary requirements of school lunches. Can they be nutritious, delicious and affordable?
“At first we were all intimidated,” said team captain Sarah Lydon ‘19. “The first time we attempted to solve a problem, none of us knew how to approach it, we couldn’t make any equations. We had to start learning about a different approach to math.”

Enter Mayfield teachers: John Romano on mathematical support, Michael Dimen on technical support, and Melissa Tighe on administrative support. Each began coaching and inspiring our teams, showing them how to break issues into numbers, equations and graphics. They can make assumptions as long as their research can reasonably justify them.

“These students have stretched themselves to acquire the same skill sets and ways of thinking that professionals in leading fields use," said Melissa Tighe, Math Department Chair. "This process has enabled them to redefine the way they see themselves and the levels at which they can impact the world. As a teacher, I see the change in them. Their new found confidence and purpose has literally changed the way they come across to others.”

When the timer sounds after 14 hours, students submit approximately a 20-page paper in which the team has proposed a solution justified and tested with mathematical models. This means defining all variables and parameters, justifying all assumptions, as well as creating graphs, tables and a written narrative that explains the solution. A panel of national judges reads the papers

Fiona Pan '20, also a team captain, said once they began reading through previous winning papers and deconstructing the process and "doing a lot of practice" they began to have those "aha!" moments of clarity.

Our students are optimistic after a four-hour trial test last weekend that earned them a few accolades in a contest chat group with professionals. The challenge involved predicting overdoses in certain states resulting from the opioid crisis that could inform health officials.

“We realized we all have different strengths and skills and all this builds a cohesive team,” one student said. “I think we have all learned not to be intimidated by a problem. We can figure out core issues, break them down carefully and then it’s really is not as complicated as it seems.”

Let's give a pre-game round of applause to our teams:

Fiona Pan '20, captain
Isabella Paine '19, mathematics and graphics specialist
Amanda Shaller '19, writer and LaTex software specialist
Solunna Nwankwo '20, research specialist
Halle Villalobos '20, statistics specialist
 
Sara Lydon '19, captain 
Gabby Magat '19, mathematics and graphics specialist
Karina Carranza '19, writer and LaTex software specialist
Elisa Gonzalez '19, research specialist
Niamh Diver '19, statistics specialist 
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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 21 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.