Sunday, March 22, 2009

Congratulations Mr. Babbitt!

Albany Area Math Circle Advisor William Babbitt is a recipient of the Mathematical Association of America/American Mathematics Competition's Edyth May Sliffe Award in recognition of his many contributions to the outstanding performance of students on Albany Area Math Circle's official AMC8 teams over the past three years.

Thousands of teams of students participate in the AMC8 all over the country, but only five coaches from each of the 10 AMC regions receive this national award.  The New York/New Jersey region is one of the most competitive in the country, so AAMC's recognition as one of the top five teams consistently over the past three years in that region is a most impressive accomplishment.

Congratulations to the students listed below whose excellent performance on the AMC8  resulted in this recognition for Mr. Babbitt's work.

2008 AMC8 Team:  Preston Law, Zubin Mukerjee, Aniket Tolpadi
2007 AMC8 Team:  Matthew Babbitt, Preston Law, Wyatt Smith
2006 AMC8 Team:  Schuyler Smith, Matthew Babbitt, Ben Kaiser & Jay White (tie)

Albany Area Math Circle advisor Mary O'Keeffe nominated Mr. Babbitt for this award because of his dedication to working with so many middle school students, not only on his own MATHCOUNTS team, but from other schools as well.  He understands that the true purpose of math contests is not just to collect trophies or advance to higher levels but to create communities in which students can support, encourage, and inspire other students in the development of their problem solving skills.  An important goal of Albany Area Math Circle is to build bridges of collaboration among groups of students who would not ordinarily have the opportunity to work together.  He unselfishly embodies all that is best about the generous and sharing community of math coaches.

Update:  Mr. Babbitt is now Dr. Babbitt.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Two kinds of relays: cross-country running and problem-solving

The photo at left shows Albany Area Math Circle alumna Alison Miller running in the third leg of yesterday's Turing Trail Relay, a 35.5 mile cross country race for 6 person teams from Ely to Cambridge (England) and back. The race is named after the mathematical logician Alan Turing, who regularly enjoyed running from Cambridge to Ely and back again along those same footpaths by the River Cam. Like many present-day mathematicians, he found distance running a source of inspiration, relaxation, and a good break from more deskbound pursuits. He was actually quite a serious distance runner decades before it became popular during the running boom of the 1970s. Turing came in fifth place in the British Olympic marathon trials in 1948. He was also a member of a running club that later helped Roger Bannister to break the four-minute mile.

Alison was running in the Turing Trail Relay as part of one of two teams from the Cambridge University Centre for Mathematical Sciences (CMS), which had the rather self-explanatory names of CMS1 and CMS2. Other teams had more intriguing names, (somewhat remniscent of names of some of the HMMT teams): the Muddy Mucky Munkeys, the Morley Marauders, the Sweatshop Social Running Group, the Abbey Ancients, Fetcheveryone 1, and the Thunderpants. The Cambridge Triathlon Alpha Males came in first place with a time of 3:29. CMS1 was a seriously competitive team and came in seventh place in 4:03. Alison was on the CMS2 team, whose goal was simply to finish the 35.5 mile relay, after having fun preparing together for it. which they did indeed manage to do--in a total time of 5:07, which placed them in 39th place out of 47 teams.

Albany Area Math Circle students also enjoy a very different kind of relay: the math relays at NYSML and ARML. The official relay competitions at those math meets are done in three person teams, who are sedately sitting at desks. There's no physical activity involved in the NYSML and ARML relays other than writing and passing slips of papers to the teammate behind you.  Each of the three students on a NYSML or ARML relay team receives a different problem. The answer to the first person's problem is an input to the second person's problem and the answer to the second person's problem, in turn, is an input to the third person's problem. The first student solves his or her problem and passes the answer back to the second student who uses that answer as an input into the problem s/he is working on, then passes the answer to the second problem on to the third student as an input into the final problem.

ARML also has a very fun (unofficial and just for fun!) Super Relay done by the whole 15 person team. In that case, the person in position #8 solves a problem using two inputs passed on by students working in two separate relay chains going forwards from position #1 to #8 and positions #15 backward to #8. You can try the problems in last year's ARML Super Relay here.
Some of the problems are more accessible than others--usually the teams are arranged with the most experienced students in the later positions.

Important things to keep in mind for success in math relays:

#1) The mysterious expression "TNYWR" often appears in relay problems. It's an abbreviation referring to "The Number You Will Receive."

#2) Unlike in a track or cross country relay race, you don't have to wait until you get handed the number by the person in front of you in order to start working on your problem. In fact, you shouldn't wait for the number. The correct strategy is to work on your problem even before you get your input, by simplifying it as much as possible in advance. Then when you get your "TNYWR" passed to you, you can quickly plug it into a simplified expression in order to generate the answer.

#3) You are allowed to pass back answers as often as you like. So you can pass back an answer, keep working, pass back another answer, and so on. You can even keep passing back the same answer, just to reassure the person behind you that you are really confident about your answer.

#4) The only thing you are allowed to pass back is the answer to your problem--no additional information. You are allowed to underline your answer in order to make the orientation clear (because otherwise, the person behind you might not be able to tell a 6 from 9.) But be careful about underlining--otherwise you might run the risk that what you intended to be a zero looks like a 10 when underlined and viewed sideways.

#5) Soemtimes the person in front of gives you a number that yields a clearly impossible input to your problem. For example, suppose your problem statement reads "Let ABC be a triangle whose hypotenuse has length equal to TNYWR and ....," but you the number you receive from the person in front of you is negative. In such a case, you are free to disregard TNYWR and take your best stab at guessing a plausible input to your problem. (It might even work! Sometimes the structure of your problem suggests a likely TNYWR.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

State MATHCOUNTS Congratulations!

Congratulations to all the Capital District teams and students who competed at today's State MATHCOUNTS competition at RPI, as well as the many Albany Area Math Circle student coaches who helped them to prepare for a very challenging and exhilarating experience.

Math Circle member Greg Hickey from Shaker ranked 10th individually on writtens to make the State Countdown. Greg continued an amazing twelve-year "streak" for Albany Area Math Circle: in every year since 1998, the state MATHCOUNTS "top ten" has included an Albany Area Math Circle student.

Other Capital District mathletes on the state top 20 honors list included heeg's Preston Law and Farnsworth's Matt Gu, whose scores tied with the 11th-ranked student and wound up officially ranking 13th and 14th, narrowly missing the top 12 state countdown based on tie-break rules.

The photograph above shows some of our middle school math circle members in the front row with some of their student coaches behind them. The mathletes are: Zubin Mukerjee from the Farnsworth team, Gili Rusak and Greg Hickey from the Shaker team, Preston Law from heeg, and Matt Gu from Farnsworth. Behind them are Albany Area Math Circle student coaches Eric Wang, Felix Sun, and Matthew Babbitt.

Other students at state MATHCOUNTS coached by Albany Area Math Circle student coaches include Joshua Nelson of Albany Academy and Eric Wu of Acadia, coached by Andrew Ardito, who also coached Greg Hickey from Shaker. Zagreb Mukerjee and Matthew Babbitt coached Gili Rusak from Shaker, Preston Law from heeg, and and Matt Gu and Zubin Mukerjee from Farnsworth. Many other AAMC student coaches have been working with a number of middle school students building groundwork for next year and/or preparing for NYSML next month.

AAMC student coaches Eric Wang and Felix Sun coached the entire Acadia team, pictured below, which took 8th place team in a very tough competitive field of 54 top teams from all across the state.

The winning team was Hunter College High School and New York City schools were especially competitive this year, with schools from the five New York City boroughs sweeping five of the top six team ranks. We salute them--and we also salute the tremendous talents and hard work, and the great promise of the Capital District students who competed today.

We are especially excited that students from so many different schools worked together in our middle school math circles to prepare for the state contest this year, building bridges of mathematical collaboration across schools, and stimulating even greater development of problem-solving skills. The photo at left shows math circle students from Farnsworth, Albany Academy, and heeg talking over a problem after the contest.

We also salute the terrific work done by the record number of Albany Area Math Circle student coaches who worked to develop problem solving skills in students from a large number of middle schools in the Capital District this year.

By coincidence, just as the Countdown was getting underway, two of our senior Albany Area Math Circle student coaches learned some very exciting news. When MIT's Admissions Office released their decisions at 3/14 1:59 p.m. (pi day!), both of our senior student coaches were admitted to MIT today, giving additional reasons for Albany Area Math Circle celebration! Congratulations to both of you--you have made terrific contributions in your work coaching younger students, and we know you will make outstanding contributions to your college communities as well.

All in all, Pi Day 2009 was a great day for math in the Albany Area. Enjoy the slideshow below to see more.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Albany Area Math Circle students Andrew Ardito and Yipu Wang have placed among a select group of 150 students nationwide who have qualified for the USA Physics Olympiad semifinals this month. This is the third level of the competition--roughly speaking, it is the physics analogue to the USA Math Olympiad, so it is a very significant honor for them to reach this level. Andrew and Yipu are also veterans of the USAMO in past years, and in the first two levels of the physics olympiad competition, they have now demonstrated their ability to apply their outstanding problem solving skills to physics as well.

Twenty-four students from the physics olympiad semifinals will be named to the USA Physics Olympiad Team and will attend the special USA Physics Olympiad Training Camp at the University of Maryland in late May. Five of those students will ultimately be named to the USA Physics Olympiad Travel Team and will represent the US at the International Physics Olympiad this summer.

Andrew is an 11th grade homeschooler from Coxsackie. Yipu is a senior at Guilderland High School.

Good luck to both Andrew and Yipu!

Congratulations Matthew

Matthew Babbitt wrote a perfect paper with a score of 150 on the 2009 AMC10B Contest. He was also the "school winner" for Albany Area Math Circle's administraton of the even more challenging AMC12A contest with a 133.5 on that exam.

Matthew is a 13-year-old eighth grade homeschooler from Fort Edward New York, but he has already spent many hours "paying it forward" by generously sharing his gifts as he mentors younger and less experienced students each week. He works as a student coach with students from a number of Capital District middle schools in our middle school math circles, as well as coaching the homeschool MATHCOUNTS team and individually mentoring a very promising younger student.

Matthew is an outstanding example of the principle that sharing your mathematical understanding is a wonderful thing: the more you explain to others, the more you deepen your own understanding.

Best of luck to Matthew and all of the Albany Area Math Circle students taking the American Invitational Math Exam (AIME) next Tuesday.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Congratulations to AMC10/12 students

Congratulations to the following Albany Area Math Circle students who have qualified for the 2009 American Invitational Math Exam (AIME), based on AMC10/12 exams taken in February with Albany Area Math Circle and/or at their schools. (If you took the AMC contest at your school and have not yet notified us of your AIME qualification, please let us know so you can be added to the list.)

Andrew Ardito, homeschool, Coxsackie
Matthew Babbitt, homeschool, Fort Edward
David Bieber, Niskayuna High School
Heidi Chen, Emma Willard School, Troy
Ashley Cho, Emma Willard School, Troy
Wilson Cheung, Scotia-Glenville High School
Peixuan Guo, Bethlehem High School
Preston Law, homeschool, Clifton Park
Zagreb Mukerjee, Guilderland High School
Markus Salasoo, Niskayuna High School
Liz Simon, Guilderland High School
Schuyler Smith, homeschool, Ballston Lake
Wyatt Smith, homeschool, Ballston Lake
Felix Sun, Shenendahoah High School, Clifton Park
Yipu Wang, Guilderland High School
Jason Xu, Niskayuna High School

Congratulations are also due to the following students who achieved scores qualifying for young student achievement national recognition (90 or above on the AMC12 for students in 10th grade or below; 90 or above on the AMC10 for students in 8th grade or below):

AMC12 Young Student Honors:
(90 or above in 10th grade or below)

Gili Ruscak 6th grade Loudonville Elementary
Matthew Babbitt 8th grade homeschool, Fort Edward
Greg Hickey 8th grade, Shaker Junior High
Preston Law 8th grade, homeschool, Clifton Park
Zubin Mukerjee, 8th grade, Farnsworth Middle School
Jason Xu, 10th grade, Niskayuna High School

AMC10 Young Student Honors:
(90 or above in 8th grade or below)

Martin Schreiner, 6th grade, Van Antwerp Middle School
Isaac Malsky 7th grade, Farnsworth Middle School
Matthew Babbitt, 8th grade, homeschool, Fort Edward
Preston Law, 8th grade, homeschool, Cliton Park
Elizabeth Parizh, 8th grade, Iroquois Middle School

As usual, the contests were extremely challenging and excellent learning experiences. Many of the students who did not qualify for AIME or for young student recognition came very close to doing so.

In past years, the lists of the New York State high scoring students have included many Albany Area Math Circle students, both overall and within grade levels, and this is likely to be the case again this year. Some especially noteworthy scores include those of our "school winners": AMC12A Matthew Babbitt, AMC10A Wyatt Smith, AMC12B Yipu Wang, AMC10B Matthew Babbitt, as well as the scores for Albany Area Math Circle's AMC12 "teams," Matthew, Andrew, and Jay on the A date, Yipu, Andrew, and David on the B date. A number of our members also scored high on tests taken at their schools.

Congratulations to all the students who participated in this very challenging contest, no matter what your score and whether you took it with us or at your school. Whether you qualified for AIME or honors or not, the greatest value of such an experience is the stimulus it can provide to the development of your problem-solving skills.

We would like to congratulate especially the many student coaches who have encouraged and mentored younger students! I think all of them enjoyed the learning experience. The middle school students who took the contest in previous years demonstrated impressive growth in their problem-solving abilities and their general enthusiasm for mathematical challenges. Our student coaches have been doing a fantastic job of helping younger students develop mathematically.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What's NYSML? It rhymes with "dismal" and "abysmal," but it is anything BUT dismal or abysmal.

If you loved MATHCOUNTS in middle school, and you're wondering if there's "life after MATHCOUNTS" in high school, you'll probably like NYSML even more.

It's like a souped-up version of state MATHCOUNTS, but bigger and better, because it's for high school students from all over the New York State, the teams are bigger, and it has a much longer tradition going back many more years than MATHCOUNTS! There are usually about 30 teams competing with 15 students on each team, so 450 math-loving students come together each year at NYSML. The NYSML tradition goes all the way back to 1973.

The first parts of the contest are the team and power rounds, when the whole team of 15 gets a whole classroom all to itself to work together collaboratively for 20 minutes on the team round and then an hour on the power round. Then all the students move into the gym where desks are laid out in rows of 15 for the individual contest problems (five pairs of problems with 10 minutes to work on each pair of problems.) Then lunch and hanging out with other math loving kindred spirits from all over the state, talking over the morning's problems. Then RELAYS!!! Then the wackiest buzz round that the organizers can concoct. Then individual tiebreakers (if necessary) and awards. Then a happy drive home in a carpool with some of your teammates, talking over the "problems that got away."

You can see more information and photos of the fun at past NYSML's here. Note that NYSML is now a "calculator-free zone." Starting in 2009, students may not use calculators in any part of NYSML, so leave your calculators at home!

This year's NYSML will take place on Saturday April 25, 2009, at John Jay Senior High School in Hopewell Junction NY (near Poughkeepsie.)

Albany Area Math Circle has sent teams to NYSML almost every year since 2002. NYSML is the premier statewide math contest for high school students in New York, and is considered a model for other contests nationwide. Albany Area Math Circle teams have done very well over the years, capturing statewide B division championships in 2002, 2005, and 2006, and our A team took 3rd place in the highly competitive A division in 2007. (The photo above shows our 2006 Albany Area Math Circle team celebrating their B-division championship.)