Saturday, February 27, 2010

Dave Bieber: Heart of Albany Area Math Circle

Dave Bieber has had a very busy senior year, successfully juggling lots of responsibilities, taking his usual tough load of demanding classes, including advanced math and computer science classes at Union College, setting personal records on the track team, and continuing to excel in math, physics, and computer science team and individual contests.

Indeed, Dave spent much of the fall participating in IBM's extremely challenging Master the Mainframe computer science challenge. Dave took 2nd place in that nationwide contest which drew 3,000 participants from universities and high schools all over the country. Of the top five winners of the competition, Dave was the only student not yet in college.

Dave has contributed to many AAMC team successes throughout his years with math circle: first place team in NYSML's B-division in 2005 and 2006, third place in the A division at NYSML 2007 and NYSML 2009, 10th place sweepstakes team at the Harvard MIT Math Tournament in 2010, 3rd place team at Princeton University Math Contest (PUMaC) 2009, 8th place team in the ARML Power Contest November 2009, and many more. He has consistently been one of the top scorers on the AMC12 both on the A-date at his high school and on the B-date with Albany Area Math Circle, placing on both AMC12A and 12B teams in all four years of high school. His contributions to the 12B team score helped the Albany Area Math Circle team place second in the state last year, right behind Stuyvesant High School, and also helped the math circle team to win the honor to nominate National MAA Edyth May Sliffe Award for Professor Krishnamoorthy in 2008. Dave was only one of 10 seventh graders in the country to make the AIME 6+ honor list in seventh grade. Dave has also been on the all-star Upstate New York math team competing at the national American Regions Math League (ARML) tournament at Penn State every year since seventh grade.

Dave was on Iroquois' MATHCOUNTS team throughout his middle school years. He led the team to the state contest and placed among the top four individuals in the state, winning a trip to represent New York State at the National MATHCOUNTS Competition in 2006. The collaborative teamwork and leadership skills he developed in his MATHCOUNTS experience have served him very well ever since, and he has played a key role as coordinator in Albany Area Math Circle's notable successes in team power contests this year.

Even more impressive and important for the future of Albany Area Math Circle is the way he has drawn on his own experiences to make outstanding contributions to inspiring and leading future cohorts of math circle students. Dave does not just stand on his own very impressive laurels--he has reached out to share his talents, his energy, and his enthusiasm with others. And that is truly the heart of what a math circle ought to be about--not just excelling oneself, but helping to bring out the best in others as well.

In the spring of 2008, Dave initiated and organized a summer math camp for students entering fifth and sixth grades. He developed the curriculum and programming and recruited a fellow student, Markus Salasoo, to help him carry out his plans. The camp was a rousing success, and they repeated it in 2009. Dave plans to run the camp again this summer. You can read more about his camp here.

In the fall of 2008, Dave started coaching the Van Antwerp MATHCOUNTS team. Van Antwerp is a school that did not have a team for a number of years; due to an apparent lack of student interest--there simply were not enough students coming to practice to field even a minimal team of four students. Under Dave's leadership, he has totally turned the situation around. The Van Antwerp MATHCOUNTS practices attract a growing number of very enthusiastic mathletes.

Dave has channeled that enthusiasm into an extraordinary team. Dave has used a lot of resourcefulness and creativity in encouraging his students. He writes original word problems for his practices that use the student's first names and interests in order to engage them. On a day when snow cancelled the scheduled afterschool practice, he created an email math puzzle treasure hunt, in which students were given problems to solve together in pairs over the Internet, then they needed to email their answers to another pair of students, who would use the answer as an input into their problem, and so on. A sort of electronic version of a math relay.

He's also taken some of the most exciting parts of his high school math team experiences and incorporated them into his practices. The photo above shows Dave and team captain Cecilia Holodak running an HMMT-style GUTS round at a MATHCOUNTS practice. Dave's genial good humor and encouragement is a huge asset to the team as well. Parents report that their children don't want to leave when they come to pick them up at the scheduled end of practices: Dave's students would apparently be happy to stay all night solving more challenging math problems with him!

All the hard and enthusiastic work by Dave and his students ultimately resulted in a rousing success at the Capital District Chapter MATHCOUNTS competition last month. Our chapter is now the biggest and toughest in the state, with 22 teams, with many strong teams coached by other terrific math circle students. Van Antwerp had never won first place before; indeed, it had been almost a decade since the last time Van Antwerp placed among the top three teams in order to qualify for the state contest.

But this year--with Dave's terrific coaching and the enthusiastic hard work of this students--Van Antwerp won first place in the chapter last month. They'll be heading to the state tournament on March 13.

Dave also managed to pull off something that adult coaches in our area had been talking about for many years: a scrimmage before the chapter MATHCOUNTS contest. Dave’s leadership skills recently showed themselves clearly when he took the initiative to organize and ran a scrimmage for math teams from five local middle schools. Professional teachers and adults who coach other math teams had long suggested that we ought to have such a scrimmage in our area, but it had been almost a decade since anyone had organized one. Dave saw the need, and stepped forward to organize one, requesting permission from a local college to use their space, invited other schools, chose the problems, set up the room, recruited other students to help out, and then emceed a terrific event, which the students thoroughly enjoyed. In running the scrimmage, Dave helped his own team but he also helped four other teams prepare as well-again, that is the true spirit of what a math circle ought to be about, helping everyone to do their best.

If you have ever tried to preside over a room full of 36 excited middle school students from five different schools, most of whom you’ve never met before the day of the scrimmage, you will realize that it is a daunting task for an adult, let alone a high school student only a few years older than the students, but Dave pulled it off. He thought about everything—coming up with the great idea of bringing along a whistle to blow to restore order when the noise level threatened to grow out of control. He also ran a very inclusive countdown round at the scrimmage, using an 8-way buzzer setup to allow every interested student to have the experience of participating in countdown. A good time was had by all, as you can see from the photo below.

As a result of all this work with younger students, Dave has surely developed his own math and problem-solving abilities as well. Explaining problem-solving approaches to younger students is a great way to deepen your own understanding, as well as to develop your own mathematical expository skills, skills that can pay off in better written proofs.

Dave's work with middle school students is an outstanding example for other math circle students--he has taken initiative and leadership in so many different ways: starting a day camp program, coaching a team, and organizing a scrimmage. The future of our math circle looks very bright as a result of initiatives like Dave Bieber's. It must be obvious to his students that Dave is thoroughly enjoying himself as he coaches them--and, surely some day down the road, some of Dave's students will be inspired by his enthusiastic example to become coaches themselves!

UPDATE 4/28/2010: Dave's honors have continued to grow since this entry was written. Dave won high team scorer honors on our NYSML team, which took second place at NYSML 2010. He also qualified for the 2010 USA Math Olympiad. And he qualified for the top level of the USA Physics Olympiad series of contests. And the National MATHCOUNTS organization featured him as their Coach of the Week. And he was named a finalist for the Golub Foundation Scholarship, a honor for which he regretfully had to withdraw, because his chosen college, Princeton, is not located in one of the states served by their grocery chain.

Dave Bieber and Andrew Ardito: Heart and Soul of Albany Area Math Circle

We have two long-time members who are graduating this spring, Dave Bieber and Andrew Ardito. They are outstanding examples of Albany Area Math Circle at its very best.

Both have been enthusiastic members of our math circle community since fifth grade. Their enthusiasm, positive energy, friendly collaborative spirit, talents, determination, work ethic, kindness, and delight in helping other students means that they provide outstanding models for our younger students to emulate.

Dave and Andrew are shining examples for our many younger students, both in their spectacular problem-solving skills and--even more importantly--in their abilities to bring out the best in their teammates as well as the many younger students they have mentored. The future of Albany Area Math Circle looks very bright because of the legacy they are leaving behind and the terrific work they have done with our younger students.

Three years ago, when Beth Schaffer and Drew Besse graduated, it was hard to imagine to imagine Albany Area Math Circle without them. We recognized the two of them with special awards as the Heart (Beth) and Soul (Drew) of Albany Area Math Circle.

Dave and Andrew have carried on in that very remarkable tradition, and it seems fitting to recognize the two of them this year with those same very special awards: the Heart and Soul of Albany Area Math Circle.

You'll be reading more about Dave and Andrew in separate posts dedicated to describing their terrific contributions to our community.

A city choosing a mathematician as its guide to the city?

How cool is that?

What an amazing vision!

Here's the editorial in today's Gazette

Schenectady has federal money for a visitors center, and now, finally, a place. A good one, too, in what is fast becoming the city’s main public gathering spot: Robb Alley at Proctors. And, some interesting, even exciting ideas about what to do there.

... Proctors has been serving as a de facto visitors center, with maps, flyers, and brochures with events, attractions, schedules, etc. It has also been attracting crowds as the winter home of the Schenectady Greenmarket, as well as a steady, daily stream to the comfortable public sitting/performance area around the Muddy Cup cafe. The city will be partnering with Proctors CEO Philip Morris, a good partner to have because he’s an effective administrator and full of ideas.

In this case, one idea in particular sounds good: hire an actor to portray Charles Steinmetz and film him talking about Schenectady and its history, for projection on screens in the visitors center.

Steinmetz would make the perfect guide. Not only was he a brilliant electrical engineer and mathematician who helped turn GE into an industrial powerhouse, he played a prominent part in Schenectady’s history, serving as president of the school board and city council, and the driving force behind the city’s excellent park system.

Steinmetz was a great scientist, but also a great citizen with a social conscience. What better person to make Schenectady’s rich history live for visitors?

I've written about Steinmetz on this blog before--if you don't know his story, it's well worth reading this post: Charles Steinmetz, Mathematical Wizard of Schenectady. He was a mathematician and electrical engineer. (Legend has it that he could "generate electricity from imaginary numbers," because he developed clever algorithms to simplify the calculations for electric equations using complex numbers) He started up what is now the GE Global Research Center in his backyard, he was also a professor at Union College, and he headed the Schenectady public schools and city council as well!

We took our visiting New York City Math Teacher Circle teachers on a tour of his stomping grounds when they visited last summer. Last Saturday, our on-line Harvard-MIT Math Tournament team was named AAMC Steimetz again! in his honor, as it competed in the Kenney Community Center at Union College in Schenectady.

How completely awesome that the City of Schenectady is considering designating his character as a guide to the city.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thanks to Agudat Achim and Alexandra Schmidt for saving the day yesterday

A foot of snow with more falling and more on the way.

Schools closed.

A proctor who was sick with an unplowed driveway.

A replacement proctor who lost power, phone, and Internet access, and who ran into a traffic jam caused by a snow-induced fender-bender outside her development yesterday.

A mountain of snow at the end of my own driveway left in the wake of the town plow. And a similar mound at the end of most students and proctors' driveways as well. Those who didn't have such mounds faced even tougher obstacles in the form of unplowed roads ahead.

A "state of emergency" forbidding "all unnecessary travel" in the City of Schenectady where we were planning to have most of our students take the AMC10/12 yesterday. The order was issued at noon, only three hours before the scheduled start of the exam.

These were just a few of the obstacles we faced yesterday.

We had all the tests. Parents were generously offering us their homes, but the AMC rules do not allow the test to be given in a private home. It must be given in a public place such as a school, church, or library. Furthermore, we had about 50 students signed up to take the test.

Desperately searching for alternatives, I had visions of holding our test in a snow-covered picnic shelter at the park!

Our super-resourceful volunteer advisor, Alexandra Schmidt, a math teacher at Hebrew Academy of the Capital District, had a better idea. Alexandra is an eagle-eyed licensed pilot who always keeps an eye on the weather and thinks ahead about contingencies. She saved the day for our students by finding us a place that could accomodate everyone to take the exam.

Her synagogue, Congregation Agudat Achim, is located in Niskayuna, a well-plowed area outside the city limits (and therefore exempt from the "no unnecessary travel order") and she has been such a helpful member of that community that the congregation leadership very kindly agreed to her request that our math circle students be allowed to use their building on short notice. Rabbi Ted Lichtenberg was on hand to sign the certification that the tests packages were still sealed until right before the exam. The custodians quickly cleared the parking lots and walkways for us and all went amazingly well. The congregation has a great location on a major state road, which is a priority for snow clearance.

From the bottom of our hearts, thanks to the congregation for offering its hospitality on short notice, to Alexandra Schmidt and Professor Rita Biswas of UAlbany for assisting with proctoring and making vast number of phone calls to try to ensure that everyone knew where to go.

Out of the 53 students originally signed up, 43 students managed to take the contest, a totally amazing number given the distances some of the students had to travel, the conditions, the changing parameters about where it would be feasible to hold the contests, and the difficulties in communicating at a time when many people were without power and/or Internet.

Thanks also to all the parents who offered their homes or who offered to contact libraries near them (unfortunately, no library is likely to have room to administer an exam to the 50-plus students who were signed up yesterday), to Union College math professor Kathryn Lesh for making arrangements and Pastor Tom Trouwborst of Calvary Church for making arrangements that would have been great if Schenectady hadn't declared a "state of emergency," to all the New York State and Town of Niskayuna public works folks who kept the highways clear enough for most of the students to get there, and to my daughter Catherine for digging out the mountain of snow at the end of my driveway!

Friday, February 19, 2010

AMC B-date on Wednesday Feb 24

We have a record number of students taking the B date AMC high school contests! Thanks very much to Prof. Kathryn Lesh of Union College math department and to Ms. Alexandra Schmidt of Hebrew Academy for agreeing to host and proctor overflow sites for us at their schools to allow everyone to have a pleasant, spacious, and comfortable testing environment!

As a result, I need to reassign testing locations to some students.

If your student has signed up to take AMC12 with us, please check the list below to see the new contest location. If your new location assignment causes a major hardship, e.g., due to carpool arrangements or a parent's job location, please let me know, and I will see what can be done.

Otherwise, we will expect students to show up on Wednesday February 24 at 3 at their assigned testing AMC10/12 locations as follows:

Students assigned to take AMC 10B/12B at Hebrew Academy at 54 Sand Creek Road Albany: Adam Parower, Alexander Cao, Arun Job, Bill Dong, Gili Rusak, Greg Hickey, Hannah Liu, Hillel Adler, Isaac Malsky, Jeffrey Shen, Justina Liu, Matt Walsh, Matthew Gu, Noah Rubin, Paul Y. Rapoport, Ved Tanavde, William Yiwei Wang

Students assigned to take AMC10B/12B at Union College Bailey Hall Room 201: Andrew Ardito, David Bieber, Isaac Smith, Jay White, Jien Ogawa, Matthew Babbitt, Philip White, Schuyler Smith, Wyatt Smith, Zubin Mukerjee

Students assigned to take AMC 10B/12B at Calvary Church at 1230 Rugby Road Schenectady: Abigail Trouwborst, Alexander Wei, Alison Xu, Anagha Tolpadi, Aniket Tolpadi, Bridget Shreiner, Cecilia Holodak, Chen Qu, Elizabeth Parizh, Felix Sun, Flora Mao, Gabriel Holodak, Gideon Schmidt, Gurtej Kanwar, Leah Trouwborst, Martin Shreiner, Nathan Soedjak, Norman Xiong, Patrick Chi, Peixuan Guo, Philip Sun, Preston Law, Ryan Soedjak, Satjiv Kanwar

And a special shout-out of recognition to Emma Willard students who will be taking the B-date contest at your school next Wednesday! Kudos to your math department head Sunshine Greene for arranging it!

Good luck to everyone taking the B-date contests! Have a completely fantastic time!