By Elizabeth Wilkes
No less than 83 juniors and seniors lived at the school for 36 hours while tackling one of two extensive math problems the weekend of November 15-17. The competition is officially known as the High School Mathematical Contest in Modeling, sponsored by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP), as it is referred.
COMAP was first held at North Springs eight years ago under the leadership of calculus teacher Scott Hetherington, with a few dedicated math students taking part. With each successive year, the popularity of the program continued to grow,
with over 70 participants last year.
When Hetherington announced that he was leaving North Springs, many students feared that the reign of COMAP would end. But Rahim Ghassemian, known as Mr. G to most, took the reins this year as head coordinator.
With 83 kids in 22 groups, the highest participation of any year, COMAP 2013 was yet another successful endeavor.
“Everything went very smoothly,” said Mr. G. “The best part of it was that Mr. Hetherington came by.”
Mr. G is thankful for the help of Mr. H in the planning as well as for all of the parent and teacher support, particularly Ms. Arnette and Mr. Luna. “We had a ton of parents that stayed the night with us, that helped to bring food – I cannot thank them enough,” said Mr. G. “Everybody made my life much easier.”
Mr. G has both asserted and ensured that COMAP is now a North Springs tradition. “We are still the only high school in Georgia that does it,” said Mr. G.
During the competition, students work in teams of 3 or 4, and have the choice between two real-life problems to solve. Whereas last year’s problems involved elk population dynamics and oil prices, this year’s options were about ambulance
response times and time waiting in line for customer service.
“Last year, we had to go on the internet and do a lot of background research on both topics,” said senior Gautam Ravichandran. “This year, it’s more strictly math – we only had to research a few specific things.”
The 36-hour timeframe might seem intimidating to a non-participant, but many participants find that is one of the best aspects of the experience. “You kind of have to be crazy to do this,” said senior Daniel Muehring. “It’s not the kind of math where you’re trying to find one answer. It’s more open-ended which means it’s more exciting to tackle. There’s no one correct answer, and everyone has a different approach.”
The extensive duration provides considerable flexibility to teams’ approaches.“I think it’s fantastic that it’s 36 hours. It allows for students to actually tackle the problem as they would in a real life situation, if they were employed,” said physics
teacher Zach Luna. “It’s not a 50 minute class period of concentrated work – they’ve got to figure out how to actually manage their time.”
While some chose to procrastinate, others got to work immediately. “We figured a lot of it out last night and started working on the paper this morning, because we just wanted to get it done so we can relax tonight,” said senior Megan Rodgers of her team’s strategy.
Since there were so many more participants this year, two teams were assigned to each sectioned-off classroom in the math hallways, while in each previous year there was only one team in every room. “I feel like it made it harder to concentrate having 2 teams in one room, because I feel like we ended up sharing a lot of ideas and it was hard to be secretive,” said senior Jackson Sanders. “It was a lot more competitive last year, when it was more secretive.”
For those who participated for the first time, their expectations were exceeded. “It’s a lot more fun than I expected it to be,” said junior Melaan Callaway. “My mom made me do it, and I had nothing better to do – but I don’t regret it at all.”
Her teammate, senior Saleigh Derico, loves math. “I expected math,” said Derico. “I got math and whole bunch of other fun stuff too. Anybody who’s in AP Calc should do COMAP.”
Even those who don’t usually enjoy math found that COMAP was an exciting experience. “I don’t even like math, and it’s pretty great,” said first-time attendee senior Keyanna Ottley. “It was a blast,” said senior Tori Budden. “I enjoyed doing it for the first and unfortunately last time.”
Even Mr. G was surprised by the amount of enthusiasm kids showed for the event.“A lot of them are enjoying doing it, not just because they think it might look good on their resume, but just for the sake of participating,” said Mr. G. “It is a very good experience to have, and I encourage all freshmen and sophomores to consider participating in COMAP in the coming years.”
The final results of the competition will be posted after February 1 after they are judged by a panel of mathematics educators. This uniquely North Springs tradition won’t be ending any time soon.