Maths Day sparks high schoolers' mathematics interest

Maths Day 2022 Maths Day Competition, "Swiss" Challenge Maths Day Competition, "Swiss" Challenge James Martini and Adam Piggott James Martini and Adam Piggott
20 June 2022

On a chilly Friday morning in Canberra, 22 teams from 17 high schools came together to battle it out in one of the longest-running maths competitions in the country. Maths Day is a competition unlike any other, where it is not simply about who can answer questions the best, or the quickest. It is a competition where teams need to develop strategies: helping their teammates and hindering the others, which way you place the chairs, who the quickest runner on your team is. It's a competition that truly emphasises the collaborative nature of mathematics.

As interest in higher-level mathematics continues to decline in Australia, ANU Math Day demonstrates that there is still significant interest in maths among high school students. Despite COVID affecting a few teams who sadly had to pull out, and the added logistical pressures for teams from regional areas, over 100 year twelve students packed in to the ANU Sports Hall. Two teams came all the way from North Sydney Technical High School - a school which has been attending since the sixth Maths Day in 1987. The competition is so popular that school runs its own version of the competition using the same format to determine the final ten students who are selected to attend the real thing. They're not the only school which does this - Burgmann Anglican School runs a version of Maths Day for students in year ten across the region. 

What makes the competition so popular? It is most likely due to the unique format of the day, comprising of four challenges. 

While the supervisors are being briefed, the students begin with the Group contest. This is the challenge which is most like a "traditional" maths competition, where students work in a group to solve a series of questions. Once the supervisors come back, the next competition begins in full force. The "Swiss" contest sees teams paired up and sit in an alternating pattern, having to guess what the next number is in a sequence based off a clue and the first few terms. Because they sit together, students are disincentivised from sharing the rule, lest they help the team they are competing against. After lunch, each team is split into "Across" and "Down" and separated across the hall for the "Cross" contest. In this challenge, the two halves must work independently to solve their half of a crossword - and once they have an answer, they can call a teacher over to pass on the information to the other half. The final competition also sees teams split into "Evens" and "Odds" for the adrenalline-fuelled Relay. Team members literally run to the front of the hall to grab their question, but they can only grab the question that matches their team's half - so if the even half is finished, but the odd question is next in line, they have to wait for the other half of their team to catch-up. This incentivises the teams into strategising - do halves move on from their question and sacrifice the points to give the other half of their team the next question?

The day finished with an employer talk, this time from ASD courtesy of the ASD-ANU Co-Lab, and some words from MSI Director Lilia Ferrairo on future studies. Taking out the honours was Narrabundah College Team 2 in First Place, with Marist College (2nd) and Sydney North Technical High School Team 1 (3rd) behind, and separated by just 8 points! For the country shield, Chevalier College took top spot. 

Thank you to everyone who participated, volunteered, and supported this event. Special thanks must go to Adam Piggott for MCing and organising, Chris Weatherall for advising and the support of AMT, Jack Brand and James Martini for writing questions, the MSI admin team for logistical support, and many others who helped make the day happen. We hope to see you back next year for an even bigger and better Maths Day 2023!

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