Teens ask: will the stimulus act work?

April 6, 2009

High school students evaluate legislation using math, contend for scholarship prizes

The current economic crisis provides natural discussion topics for high school economics and social studies classes--but math class? Absolutely!

This year's Moody's Mega Math Challenge problem, "$787 Billion: Will the Stimulus Act Stimulate the U.S. Economy?" asked high school students to identify and mathematically assess the parts of the stimulus package most likely to produce the greatest improvements in employment and the time frame over which this effect would take place. They also had to quantify their findings using mathematical modeling and quantitative analysis techniques, develop and defend their models, and justify their conclusions.

"That teams of three to five students were able to make so much progress on this exceptionally daunting problem and in just 14 hours is a testament to the quality of our high school students and their teachers," said Lee Seitelman, professional consultant and Director of Judging for the Challenge. "This is especially true given the fact that the brightest minds in our country are grappling over these same issues at this very moment."

Close to 400 teams submitted viable solution papers on Challenge weekend, March 7-8. "The quality of the papers was excellent," said Ben Fusaro, M3 Challenge consultant and Head Judge. "The judges thought the solutions were exceptional considering that the authors are high school juniors and seniors."

After undergoing an extensive judging process during the past month, the following teams (listed alphabetically) were selected to contend for the top six awards ranging from $2,500 to $20,000:

Bergen County Academies, Team #119, Hackensack, New Jersey
Elk County Catholic High School, Team #290, Saint Marys, Pennsylvania
High Technology High School, Team #58, Lincroft, New Jersey
Staples High School, Team #143, Westport, Connecticut
The Wheeler School, Team #128, Providence, Rhode Island
West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North, Team #57, Plainsboro, New Jersey

These top teams will make formal presentations at the Moody's Corporation headquarters in Manhattan on May 5, when the judges learn for the first time the identities of the students and the schools they represent. Each team will have 15 minutes to present its solution paper and answer questions from the judges, who will then deliberate one last time and rank the teams in the final winning order. Following this deliberation, The Moody's Foundation, which funds the Challenge, will announce the winners and award the scholarship prizes.

In addition, teams representing the following 17 schools will be awarded Honorable Mention Team Prizes of $1,000 each:

Academy for the Advancement of Science and Technology, Team #11, Hackensack, New Jersey
East Greenwich High School, Team #204, East Greenwich, Rhode Island
High Technology High School, Team # 126, Lincroft, New Jersey
Hunterdon Central Regional High School, Team #211, Flemington, New Jersey
J.R. Masterman Demonstration School, Team #92, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Kinnelon High School, Team #173, Kinnelon, New Jersey
McQuaid Jesuit, Team #469, Rochester, New York
Montgomery Blair High School, Team #251, Silver Spring, Maryland
Needham High School, Team #410, Needham, Massachusetts
New Canaan High School, Team #322, New Canaan, Connecticut
Shrewsbury High School, Team #228, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts
St. Joseph High School, Team #163, Metuchen, New Jersey
Stuyvesant High School, Team #293, New York, New York
Summit High School, Team #222, Summit, New Jersey
The Family Foundation School, Team #239, Hancock, New York
The Lawrenceville School, Team #253, Lawrenceville, New Jersey
Valley Regional High School, Team #6, Deep River, Connecticut

Teams were required to evaluate whether or not the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that President Obama signed into law in February will in fact stimulate the economy. The problem called for student teams to mathematically assess the elements of the stimulus package and quantify their findings using mathematical modeling techniques, develop and defend their models, and justify their conclusions. They also had to gauge how quickly elements of the stimulus package might generate results, to ascertain how they will know if the package is working, and to indicate a confidence level in their predictions. Additionally, they were asked to discuss whether a second stimulus package would be needed, and if so, how large it should be and how it should be structured. Finally, they were challenged to propose other, better ways to stimulate the economy and increase U.S. employment.

"The Challenge has a reputation for posing problems that are both current and engaging and this year's topic is especially timely and interesting," said Michelle Montgomery, Project Director. "As in previous years, the problem is open-ended and based on a real-world application of mathematics. It does not have an exact or uniquely correct solution."

Judging for the Challenge is rigorous, meticulous, and impartial. There are no passing grades and numerical scores are not assigned. More than three-dozen Ph.D.-level applied mathematicians came together during March and early April to judge the competition, reaching a consensus on the 23 winning teams based on the creativity and quality of the papers' assumptions, math model, testing methodology, and summary.

"Several outstanding papers rose to the top during the judging this year, yielding clear winners," said James M. Crowley, Executive Director of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), which organizes the competition. "Successful teams build models and do careful quantitative analysis while developing a well-organized solution paper that clearly explains their results. The top papers won because they attacked this year's Challenge problem using creative ideas based on sound mathematics, and they presented their solution in a clear and cohesive way."

To see the 2009 Challenge problem visit http://m3challenge.siam.org/login/login.php.

To see if your local high school participated in the M3 Challenge go to http://m3challenge.siam.org/pdf/2009_partic.pdf.

For more information on the Challenge, visit http://m3challenge.siam.org.

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About the Challenge
Moody's Mega Math Challenge spotlights applied mathematics as a powerful problem-solving tool, as a viable and exciting profession, and as a vital contributor to advances in an increasingly technical society. Scholarship prizes total $80,000 in 2009. The Challenge is entirely Internet-based and there are no entrance or participation fees. Each high school may enter up to two teams of three to five students each. Students choose which day they wish to work on Challenge weekend and have 14 hours to solve an open-ended, realistic, applied math-modeling problem focused on real-world issues. Teams can work from any location they choose and can use any free and publicly available resources, but they may not discuss any aspect of the problem with, or seek help from, their coach or anyone other than their teammates. Complete details, sample problems, and archives of previous winners and Challenge events are available at http://m3challenge.siam.org.

Awards and Recognition: 2009 ASAE Associations Advance America (AAA) Award of Excellence; 2008 Excellence Award, Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP)

About the Sponsor
The Moody's Foundation is a charitable organization dedicated to supporting a variety of nonprofit education, health and human services, civic, and arts and culture programs. Established by Moody's Corporation in 2001, the Foundation's primary area of giving is secondary and higher education with a focus on mathematics, economics and finance. Further information is available at http://philanthropy.moodys.com.

Moody's Corporation (NYSE: MCO), an essential component of the global capital markets, provides credit ratings, research, tools and analysis that contribute to stable, transparent and integrated financial markets. Moody's Corporation is the parent company of Moody's Investors Service and Moody's Analytics, encompassing Moody's non-ratings businesses. With revenues of $2.3 billion in 2007, Moody's employs approximately 3,600 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, PA, is an international society of over 12,000 individual members. These include applied and computational mathematicians and computer scientists, as well as other scientists and engineers. Members are researchers, educators, students, and practitioners from 85 countries 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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