Third Annual Math Open at Andover Breaks Participation Records Despite Virtual Shift

The third annual Math Open at Andover (M.O.A.A.), designed for middle school students interested in math, took place last Saturday. Although the event is usually hosted and run by Andover students on campus, it was held virtually this year due to Covid-19 restrictions. Additionally, all rounds of the competition were team-based. With the virtual format, the competition achieved record participation, with over 1,160 participants across 510 teams competing and over 18,000 dollars in sponsorships and prizes available.

This year, the four tournament directors were Christina Li ’21, Jeremy Zhou ’21, William Yue ’22, and Nathan Xiong ’22, and the associate board consisted of webmaster Jeffrey Shi ’22, registration director Jessica He ’22 and outreach manager Arnav Bhakta ’22. 

The M.O.A.A. was a full-day contest that lasted from 10:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. EDT, with three rounds to be completed by teams of up to four members each. The General and Theme rounds took place in the morning, while the Gunga Bowl, a “fast-paced” round with a live scoreboard to keep track of each team’s progress, took place in the afternoon. In addition, Po-Shen Loh, a professor of mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University and coach of the U.S. International Math Olympiad team, held presentations throughout the day. According to Li, the directors had to make many adjustments to ensure that the virtual event ran smoothly.

“Logistically, we had to completely overhaul the website to support automatic account creation, auto-grading, and auto-answer submission for the contest. And like the same as a usual year, we also had to do outreach for participants and sponsors… [We usually have] two individual rounds in the morning and two team rounds later, but this year, we thought that it would be better if we had three team rounds [instead],” said Li. 

For Xiong, the main difficulty of running a virtual competition was replicating the onsite interaction and community of an in-person event. The team tried to preserve elements of the competition by setting up a Discord server and Zoom help desk.

“The biggest challenge with setting up a virtual M.O.A.A. was definitely finding a way to replace the “community” aspect of an in-person event. We tried to replicate a normal M.O.A.A. as best we could, so we moved as many things as possible online, like the opening and closing ceremonies, the speaker sessions for invited guests, and the live Gunga Bowl round. We also took advantage of some online tools…which people could pop into if they had any questions,” wrote Xiong in an email to The Phillipian.

Although holding a virtual M.O.A.A. came with its challenges, there were also unexpected advantages and successes. According to Bhakta, the M.O.A.A. accumulated a total sum of over 18,000 dollars from sponsorships by reaching out to companies such as Daily Challenge with Po-Shen Loh, Wolfram, Texas Instruments, Art of Problem Solving (AoPS), and International Marketmakers Combination (IMC), all of which are known for sponsoring math competitions.

The virtual format enabled students from all over the country and around the world to participate, resulting in over 1,000 more participants than last year, which had only 146 competitors. Another unexpected benefit of the virtual competition was that extra expenses, like renting out spaces, were cut. This allowed for no registration fee, which encouraged socioeconomic diversity among participants, according to Li.

“This year, we were actually able to promote equitable access to the contest by not requiring participants to pay a registration fee unlike in previous years, and with the competition going virtual, we also were able to eliminate the geographical barrier to participation. So in that way, any student who was interested in the competition could compete regardless if they were able to fly into Andover’s campus,” said Li.

According to Li, The purpose of the M.O.A.A. is to allow middle school students to expand their mathematical exposures and encourage them to continue their interest in math, which may influence future careers. Also, this event is a place where participants can enjoy vigorous competition while also creating a community. 

“The early years of somebody’s education are really formative in determining whether they keep pursuing that subject or field, into college and into higher education. So our goal was to foster the sort of mathematical interest and curiosity and community when students are in middle school so that they can be exposed to the beauty of math and thus be more motivated to continue pursuing it into their older years,” said Li.

Bhakta also believes that the tournament helped students to interact with unfamiliar concepts and inspire them to become more experienced mathematicians.

“At the M.O.A.A., we hope to inspire competitors to pursue mathematics further. And we believe that by exposing contestants to fascinating mathematical concepts, which they might never encounter in their own math classes at school in the form of three fun, engaging team rounds, we think that the M.O.A.A. will promote mathematical interest in the communities all around New England and the world. And in this way, we expect that the M.O.A.A. will galvanize the youth of today to become the next generation of mathematicians and problem solvers,” said Bhakta.

With this year’s virtual M.O.A.A. being a huge success, Li hoped that the competition for next year should be held both in-person and online to maximize its outreach and availability for interested students.

“Depending how the world looks in a year, I think that it would be nice to…continue the tradition of holding an in-person event. But I think that if we have the resources, it would be great to continue the virtual event too, so maybe have them going on at the same time because I think that it’s still very important to be able to make this resource available and give everybody who is interested access to it, because I think that would be a great way of preserving the legacy of everything that we innovated for this year’s M.O.A.A.,” said Li.

Editor’s Note: Jeremy Zhou ’21 is a Graphic Design Editor for The Phillipian. William Yue ’22 is an Associate News Editor for The Phillipian. Jeffrey Shi ’22 is an Associate Arts Editor for The Phillipian. Jessica He ’22 is an Associate Digital Editor for The Phillipian.