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.

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