Solving real-world problems takes students to Hong Kong

Issue: Volume 98, Number 13

Posted: 1 August 2019
Reference #: 1H9wWk

Four New Zealand students have gone through to the final round of an international maths modelling event in Hong Kong that challenges students to solve real-world problems using the power of mathematics.

Year 13 students from Manurewa High School – Aimee Lew, Aaron Lew, Ella Guiao and John Chen – impressed judges with their plan for supporting a maximum world population of 8.02 billion people.

The challenge set by the International Mathematical Modelling Challenge (IM2C), was to find out the maximum population that Earth can support, develop a model to support that number of people, and find solutions to issues like plastic pollution and water shortages.

The team’s entry impressed the judging panel because of its well-researched methodology and its grounding in the real world.

The students will compete in the finals against teams from Hong Kong, Australia, Poland and Netherlands. This year 57 teams took part from 33 countries in the national/regional selection round.

Promoting maths modelling

Held each year, the IM2C promotes the teaching of mathematical modelling and applications at all educational levels. It gives students the chance to experience the power of mathematics to help better understand, analyse and solve real world problems. 

The Auckland students’ study of geography and social sciences was part of their challenge work, along with statistics, calculus and other areas of the Year 13 maths curriculum. The group had just one week to work together during school holidays, with no help from others.

In the final round of the IM2C, which happens in Hong Kong at the end of July (just before this issue of Education Gazette is published), the team will give a 15-minute presentation and show a video about their school’s community and Auckland. 

Global focus

Each year IM2C focuses on a global problem and asks student teams to develop a model that creates solutions to the issue. In previous years, subjects have included how to curb crime in cities, and how to maintain the International Space Station now that US-funded space shuttles are no longer operating.

Manurewa High School deputy principal Lawrence Naicker says making the final is an amazing achievement by the students and it reflects the strong support they get from the school to achieve right across the curriculum. 

“What they did was the result of cross-fertilised learning. Their work required a deep understanding of culture in the context of food production and they researched factors such as how different groups of people ate more, or less, based on what their income is.”  

The team also had to research factors such as global warming, growing urbanisation and water shortages and the challenge had to be fitted into their already-busy lives. 

“They are ordinary teenagers who are living life to the fullest and grabbing every opportunity available, including the chance to expand their horizons and learn about other cultures,” Lawrence says.

The Hong Kong final is just one of a series of events around the world the students are taking part in. Aimee is part of the school’s hip hop dance crew, Rewa All Stars, which recently competed in an international dance competition in the US; John is just back from an international physics competition in Poland; and Aaron is going to Barcelona to represent New Zealand in a science competition. 

Maths = opportunities

“We want every student to be able to achieve to their potential in every aspect of their lives, so our support for maths is strong,” Lawrence says. 

“The core of maths is the ability to think in abstract terms and to see beyond the obvious, and to use technology well, which requires algorithmic or logical thinking.

“There are huge gains that maths gives you for computational thinking and digital skills, and that is going to open up vast opportunities in all our students’ future pathways,” he says.

“Our goal is to demystify maths learning and make it more accessible to everyone to use in their lives, both professionally and personally.

“For many of our students’ parents, maths was not a strong point when they were in school. But our message to all parents is that, even though they themselves may not have enjoyed it as a subject, it is important to support their children to stay connected to maths.”

The maths modelling challenge

Each team was given a three-part modelling problem:

  1. Identify and analyse the major factors that you consider crucial to limiting the Earth’s carrying capacity for human life under current conditions.
  2. Use mathematical modelling to determine the carrying capacity of the Earth for human life under today’s conditions and technology.
  3. What can mankind realistically do to raise the carrying capacity of the Earth for human life in perceived or anticipated future conditions? What would those conditions be?

Solving problems

The Manurewa High School team’s 29-page report looked at key issues such as water, climate change, pollution and limits to food supply, and how those issues can be managed. Solutions included:

  • increasing food supply by growing crops up walls in vertical gardens
  • encouraging people to eat less meat, and more meat substitutes
  • modifying agricultural animals to allow them to grow bigger
  • more efficient use of water, such as re-using dirty water for plants and gardens
  • injecting water into underground aquifers for later use in droughts
  • increasing urban density and more high-rise apartments in cities with low density, such as Auckland.

To read the students’ report, visit the IM2C website here(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:09 pm, 1 August 2019

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts