BC Calculus Students Puzzle Through M3 Challenge

The team displays their trademark focus and seriousness at Target after finishing the 14 hour M3 challenge.  Photo Credit: The Midwood M3 Team

The team displays their trademark focus and seriousness at Target after finishing the 14 hour M3 challenge. Photo Credit: The Midwood M3 Team


BC Calculus students competed in the online MathWorks Modeling Challenge (M3) on March 1-3. The M3 challenge requires a group of five students to answer one applied mathematics conundrum. Results of the competition will be revealed later this month. 

The M3 challenge encourages students to combine research, math skills, and creative brainstorming to interpret data and come up with a solution to a real-world problem.  This year, amid the U.S. opioid epidemic, students were asked to create a mathematical model to predict how vaping contributes to cigarette use and how likely high school seniors are to abuse certain substances such as alcohol, marijuana, and opioids, based on multiple variables. 

The team was given 14 hours to work together in order to come up with a solution. Members cannot break the time into sections, but they do get to decide when they have breaks. This year, two teams from Midwood competed against other students nationwide. 

“We expected to use a lot more mathematics,” said Yesenia Peregrina ’20. “However, it feels as though the majority of the competition was revolved around research.” 

Students who wanted to participate were able to sign up in February, and groupings were assigned at random by picking names from a hat.

Since the students were all from the same math class, it was easier for them to work together. 

“Before the competition, I would individually talk with or work with other people on the team,” said Peregrina. “However, after spending 14 hours with everyone, you are able to establish a bond and respect for one another.”

Before the math competition, the groups prepped themselves by reviewing some tricky mathematical subjects. 

“In the days leading up to the competition, we all reviewed the regulations and guidelines that were given to us,” said Ryan Chen ’20. “I personally chose to review statistics and probability, as I felt they were most critical to the challenge.” 

Ms. Grabowski, an AP Calculus teacher, has been sending students to this challenge since its establishment in 2006, but for most students at this competition, this was their first time participating, and they were eager to apply the math skills they learned. 

“What motivated me to participate was to experience how theoretical mathematics can be applied to real-world problems,” said Kevin Ng ’20. 

“It was the longest and shortest Saturday of my life,” said Nathan Reder ’19. “It was the longest because who would want to do math all day. It was also the shortest in the sense that we felt there wasn’t enough time as we rushed to finish the problem at the 11th hour.”

Under the strict time limit, students have to formulate plans quickly and work well collaboratively to take in everyone’s ideas and get as much research done as possible.

“Most importantly, teamwork and the ability to communicate your ideas with your teammates were the essential skills for the competition,” said Ng. 

Haseeb Khan ’19 said, “At first, when we started the question, we were really confused on how to even approach it. Over time, we began to start defining what some of the terms meant into variables.”

Although the team went through many hardships during the 14 hours of M3 challenge, this “best academic experience ever,” said Ng, created strong bonds and friendships. 

Reder said, “The best part was getting to hang out with a bunch of friends from school and getting to bond with them through the adversity the problem presented.”

For next year’s students who want to experience this for themselves, Reder said, “I would suggest they make a plan when trying to solve the given problem. You don’t realize how fast the time will go until it’s over, and if you don’t have a plan of action, you won’t get anything done.”

“Students always say it’s a worthwhile experience,” said Ms. Grabowski. “[It’s] fun but grueling -- a 14-hour day, where their egos need to be checked at the door so they can collaborate and brainstorm while they learn about, and attempt to address, the particular problem they were challenged with.”

FeaturesCasey Levinson