Math Team Hosts Fourth Annual Downtown Math Invitational Virtually

In light of COVID-19, Stuyvesant’s math team hosted their Downtown Math Invitational competition virtually this year.

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The Stuyvesant Math Team held its fourth Downtown Math Invitational (DMI) competition virtually on December 12. The Trinity School’s A team came in first; the Bronx High School of Science’s A team came in second; and Hunter College High School’s Barney team came in third. Junior Jake Berg from the Dalton School came first in the individual contest, with a perfect score of 10. Despite hosting the competition online to fit pandemic guidelines, the organizers hoped to make the event as similar to previous years’ as possible, with preparations starting in October.

The competition, which is open to all New York City high school teams, consists of four rounds: the Team Round, the Power Round, the Individual Round, and the Marathon Round. During the 40-minute Team Round, teams of six students worked together to answer 10 questions. Then the 70-minute Power Round required teams to complete a series of calculations and proofs. After a 45-minute lunch break during which they could chat on Discord, students participated in a 40-minute Individual Round, solving five problem sets with two questions each. In the final 90-minute Marathon Round, teams worked through two questions at a time with a maximum of 26 questions.

The organizers found the process of inviting other high school teams to attend relatively simple. “We sent out [e-mails] to coaches across New York City schools. The coaches asked the kids in their math team if they wanted to attend, and then they just filled out a Google Form, and they were registered,” senior and captain Madelyn Mao said. Each high school sent up to two teams of six students.

The event was organized and hosted using a combination of Zoom and Discord. Contestants were proctored via Zoom, and communicated in either Zoom or private Discord channels that were set up to facilitate smaller discussions among members of the team. All participants also joined a Discord server, meaning students were able to communicate with each other, “which is one of the benefits of competing in a math competition: getting to meet people from other schools who are also into math and problem solving,” math teacher and math team coach Brian Sterr said in an e-mail interview.

Though organizers and participants found Zoom and Discord effective means of communication, teams found it more challenging to share information and collaborate virtually, especially under time pressure. “The competition and teamwork are […] a bit different, because you can't just lean over and check someone else’s work or show them your paper,” Sterr said.

The competition was completely managed by Stuyvesant’s math team students and coaches, with students contributing to one of six different committees: contest writing, technology, proctors and volunteers, scoring, announcers, and media and communications. The team borrowed inspiration from other in-person-turned-virtual math competitions, such as New York City Interscholastic Mathematics League (NYCML).

The contest writing committee wrote and arranged the problems used during the event. “We received many problem proposals from members of the Stuyvesant math team, and additionally wrote many of the problems featured on the contest,” juniors and Heads of Contest Writing Rishabh Das and Jerry Liang said in a joint e-mail interview.

Many Stuyvesant math team members solved sample problems after school, which helped in evaluating and balancing the difficulty of the problems. “One of the harder aspects is to find a way to balance the problems such that the difficulty is reasonable and such that there is no overwhelming amount of one topic tested,” Das and Liang said. “The feedback and comments were instrumental in composing a well formulated contest.”

The technology committee set up the necessary online systems, as well as “making the in-person to online transition as easy as possible for both the competitors and volunteers,” senior and Head of Technology Mario Tutuncu-Macias said in an e-mail interview.

Junior and Head of Technology Edward Wu added in an e-mail interview, “I mostly set up and kept on track the DMI Discord, and [Tutuncu-Macias], the other head of the technology committee, worked with [Sterr] to make the submission forms and automatic scoring.”

Proctor and volunteer committee members were in charge of creating Zoom meetings in which they guided and monitored competing teams. “You basically get to read some instructions for the Power Rounds, and if there are any problems, just communicate as a bridge between the competitors and the teachers,” junior and Head of Proctors and Volunteers Xiaoshen Mao said.

Similar to the proctor and volunteer committee, the scoring committee relied on volunteers to help score problems that were submitted each round. This year, their job was made easier by using auto-grading features. “For the team, individual, and marathon round, we gather all of the answers and make sure they are inputted, and then we go over them and check if the computer graded them correctly. For the power round, we grade each problem ourselves,” senior and Head of Scoring Theo Schiminovich said.

The announcers committee oversaw the coordination of the rounds on the day of the competition. They supervised and made announcements on communication platforms, such as Discord. These announcements included information on when rounds started, time limits, and basic instructions.

The media and communications committee—along with other responsibilities—managed the DMI website, the event’s logo and T-shirts, and the introductory and closing slides. Unlike other committees who had to adjust their responsibilities and workload once the competition switched to an online format, “the competition being virtual didn’t really change [their] role or responsibilities,” junior and Head of Media and Communications Josephine Lee said in an e-mail interview.

There were a few aspects of the competition that were more challenging to organize due to the virtual medium, particularly involving the Marathon Round, during which students work on two problems simultaneously. In past years, once a student answered one question, they would run to the front of the auditorium to hand it in and take the next problem. “We had to figure out how to do that virtually and come up with a complex system with a Google Form and a spreadsheet, where the spreadsheet would show them a new question every time they submitted an answer to previous questions,” Sterr said.

Additionally, some students noted that the online competition lacked the usual atmosphere of tension and excitement. “I've volunteered once before in the 2018 DMI. Then, you could feel the clamor in the air during orientation and awards, the intensity during tiebreakers, the calculations during the rounds. Of course, we can't have the contest in person, so this was definitely a drawback effect of the pandemic,” Wu said.

Following the event, the team received suggestions from both contestants and organizers. Some wanted a shorter lunch break or recommended using either Discord or Zoom instead of both. Others suggested brainstorming better ways to monitor contestants in the future.

While the DMI did present its own unique set of challenges, it created a space for Stuyvesant math team members to interact. “This year, there is less interaction between the upper and lower grade levels of the math team, so organizing the DMI was a great opportunity to come together as Stuy’s math team and work toward a common cause,” Lee said in an e-mail interview.

In addition, more students and alumni were able to participate, especially as proctors. “Usually in real life, we never have enough proctors last minute. This year, it was easily filled up because of quick communication through [e-mails] and a lot of alumni that came back to help,” Xiaoshen Mao said.

The DMI serves as a tradition for the Stuyvesant math team and for teams across the city, one that organizers wished to maintain despite the pandemic. “It was important that we held a virtual version so students were still given this chance to compete, even though the competition cannot be held in person. Many students are graduating this year, and I feel it would be unfair to them if we skipped it this year,” Schiminovich said.

Outside Stuyvesant, students from other schools also appreciated the event. “I heard from many coaches that their students were really looking forward to the competition and really enjoyed their time. For a lot of schools, their math teams have been reduced due to COVID-19, so it was a great opportunity for them to compete,” Sterr said.

Organizers believed the DMI helped revitalize the math team culture and created an overall sense of community. “Through the DMI, we hope that students from across the city will have an opportunity to experience the joys of problem solving not only as an individual, but also as a team,” Das and Liang said.