Gold in Math Olympiad

The 2016 Rio Olympic Games finished almost a month ago with the U.S. winning a total of 121 medals, which is almost double that of Britain in second place.  While we are still celebrating our nation’s athletic prowess, we should also be touting our academic success — the U.S recently won its second consecutive gold medal at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). The IMO is an annual competition for high school students held each year in a different country. The two-day competition requires students to complete 3 problems each day in 4 ½ hours. Here is an example problem:

“In Lineland there are n ≥ 1 towns, arranged along a road running from left to right. Each town has a left bulldozer (put to the left of the town and facing left) and a right bulldozer (put to the right of the town and facing right). The sizes of the 2n bulldozers are distinct. Every time when a right and a left bulldozer confront each other, the larger bulldozer pushes the smaller one off the road. On the other hand, the bulldozers are quite unprotected at their rears; so, if a bulldozer reaches the rear-end of another one, the first one pushes the second one off the road, regardless of their sizes. Let A and B be two towns, with B being to the right of A. We say that town A can sweep town B away if the right bulldozer of A can move over to B pushing off all bulldozers it meets. Similarly, B can sweep A away if the left bulldozer of B can move to A pushing off all bulldozers of all towns on its way. Prove that there is exactly one town which cannot be swept away by any other one. (Estonia)”

In the podcast “Count One More Gold for The U.S. — In MathJody Avirgan interviews Po-Shen Loh, the U.S. team coach. Loh, once a team member and now a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, thinks that just as the U.S. Olympics inspires young athletes, the IMO can likewise encourage students to be interested in mathematics. “I think that mathematics is similar to sports in the sense that if you do more practice, you actually get significantly better,” states Loh. “And the big question then becomes, ‘How do we convince people that doing that practice in mathematics is a fun, fruitful, exciting thing to do?’”

Good question, Professor Loh. One way we can encourage fun mathematics practice is through the use of math games. A quick internet search yields hundreds of math game sites. For a more precise approach to finding math games, teachers and parents can use the free resources available on quantiles.com.  At the site, click “Use the Quantile Framework” at the top of home page. Then select “Math Skills Database” and “Keyword Search.” Enter a keyword such as “Operations.”  A list of Quantile Skill and Concepts (QSCs) targeted to the topic will appear. Suppose you want to practice “Order of Operations.” Click the QSC “Use order of operations including parentheses and other grouping symbols to simplify numerical expressions.” Then click” Show 18 Resources” to view the free resources calibrated to that skill. There are several math games listed to help students practice math AND have fun.  

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