Carderock Math Contest

Carderock Math Contest Challenges and Entertains Local Students

The contest is part of Carderock’s STEM student outreach efforts

More than 200 students from 32 local middle schools came to Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division on March 24 to compete in the eighth annual Carderock Math Contest (CMC).

The contest, part of Carderock’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) student outreach efforts, included individual and team competition in MATHCOUNTS-style tests and other activities to inform and entertain them, like tours of the West Bethesda, Maryland, facility.

“I want to ensure that students find STEM-based activities exciting; that’s something I am passionate about,” said Dr. Charles Fisher, CMC coordinator and materials engineer with the Welding, Processing and Nondestructive Evaluation Branch (Code 611). “This contest opens up the opportunity for them to see the applications of some of the skills they’re getting. During the tours, they get a chance to see how they would use that math in real life, and they see how they can learn it in school and then translate it into a job and their future careers.”

The CMC began with the Target and Sprint rounds of competition, with sets of written math problems the students answered on their own, followed by the Team Round. Phil Dudt, a CMC committee member and Carderock employee since 1968, said Carderock’s CMC is unique in that it offers two levels of difficulty, port and starboard, so that less- advanced students can still compete and learn about STEM.

“I’m helping at the CMC because it can introduce students to possible new options for their future,” said Dudt, who added that he didn’t get those opportunities himself since his middle-school science teacher said he had no future in science and thus wouldn’t let him take biology class. “I think these middle-school kids are still at a formative time and introducing them to this vista is a really worthwhile endeavor.”

After the morning tests, students gathered in the Maritime Information Technology Center’s auditorium for a presentation from the “mathemagician,” Prof. Arthur Benjamin. Benjamin is the Smallwood Family Professor of Mathemathics at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California,and has entertained with his mental math capabilities on the Today Show, the Colbert Report and elsewhere. At Carderock, he impressed the children with his skills in combinatorics while involving them directly in his presentation.

From there, volunteers took the students on tours of Carderock’s facilities, with the Manufacturing, Knowledge and Education Lab, the David Taylor Model Basin and the Subsonic Wind Tunnel as highlights. Ben Medina, an engineer who began working at Carderock in August, helped coordinate these volunteer efforts along with 16 Carderock employees working year-round on the committee to prepare for the event and more than 60 volunteers on the day of the event serving as chaperones and test proctors, as well as other necessary support roles. He said he relates to the students at the CMC, having taken some preliminary MATHCOUNTS tests as a student himself, and he enjoys getting the chance to tell them about Carderock’s facilities.

“When I came and toured Carderock for the first time, that was what impressed me: the facilities, the physical investments and the things we do here,” Medina said. “We do real laboratory work here – we’re not just typing in numbers and doing equations all day, there are physical things we are doing. I definitely know how being a student and being able to come to a place like this is a special occasion for them, and I like supporting that a lot.”

The top 16 scorers in the morning competitions moved on to the main event, the Countdown Round, answering advanced math questions for speed in a bracket-style tournament. Sean Power, a home- schooled student with the Chesapeake Math Program, was the overall winner in the Countdown Round, while Swanson Middle School in Arlington, Virginia, won the team competition.

Garry Lee Murray, a student attending Blow Pierce Academy, said he enjoyed touring Carderock, especially the Solid Waste Lab, and had fun watching the mathemagician, but the testing was his favorite part of the day.

“It was a rough challenge – some of it was easy, but some was tough, and I didn’t get to complete them all, which lets me know I need to keep studying and challenging myself,” Murray
said. “This place is cool. I’m definitely interested in becoming a STEM teacher or an engineer someday.”

Fisher said he was grateful for the help from all the volunteers to make CMC happen and that he enjoyed putting the event on once again, thanks to the enthusiasm of the students.
“The kids make the event for us; their excitement is what makes the event go so well every year,” Fisher said. “We’re very happy to have them out here so they can have some fun and see real applications for the math they’re learning. This is our pleasure.”

By Dustin Diaz, NSWCCD Public Affairs