Myers Park High seniors Roshan Sadanani and Matthew Adams are living examples of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' slogan “Global competitiveness starts here.”
Last month the duo went to Singapore for a first-ever worldwide contest using advanced math to solve real-life problems, such as efficiently scheduling ships for docking in Singapore Harbor.
Before they could start that work, they dashed to a Singapore school to finish the International Baccalaureate exams they'd started in Charlotte.
They weren't in town long before they saw a vivid illustration of the value the small southeast Asian nation puts on academic achievement: A huge billboard sported the image of a teen who was perfect on last year's IB exam.
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“It was refreshing being in a system that really values the upper-level student,” says Myers Park math teacher Adele Fielding, a native Australian who accompanied the team to Singapore.
While educators across the nation grapple with boosting math skills among average American students, Sadanani and Adams need no prod.
The international perspective comes naturally to Sadanani, whose parents are from India and whose father holds a doctorate in chemistry. His parents have always pushed him to take extra math and science, he says; he has been taking part in the Charlotte Math Club since second grade.
Adams, a self-proclaimed geek, says his math mania comes from within. His dad tells him he was doing calculations based on the car odometer when he was 2. He got hooked on computer programming in middle school, when he realized he could reprogram his calculator to avoid some of the drudgery of math homework.
In eighth grade, Adams took first place in the N.C. MATHCOUNTS competition. That was about the time CMS placed him in its Horizons program for highly gifted students. The district recently extended that program into high schools, allowing Adams to do an internship in UNC Charlotte computer labs writing code and games.
The Singapore invitation came through UNCC professor Harold Reiter, sponsor of the Charlotte Math Club. Singapore educators created the international contest, and the N.C. Science, Mathematics and Technology Education Center got to select five teams. Three came from the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, a public boarding school in Durham that draws the most talented students from around the state. One came from Asheville, and Reiter got to pick a team from his math club.
Reiter chose three strong competitors from Myers Park High (Kevin Lang, a junior, was replaced by a Wilmington student when Lang opted for a national physics contest at the same time). There was one catch: Myers Park doesn't teach mathematical modeling, the focus of the Singapore contest.
Reiter and Fielding launched a cram course, working with the other N.C. teams.
The contest had two parts: one they could work on for about a month before the trip, and one given 24 hours in advance. The first: Figure out how to cut large sheets of glass into windows of various sizes, minimizing waste.
“There isn't necessarily one right answer,” says Sadanani.
The Charlotte team came up with a simple solution that worked well, and another that was mathematically more interesting, but didn't produce the same results. They decided to present both.
After they arrived, joining 66 Singapore students and more than 100 others from around the globe, they were handed the second problem: Design scheduling for the harbor, moving ships of different lengths in and out of limited dock space.
Adams used his programming skills. Sadanani's debate techniques shone as he presented the ideas.
The two didn't win, but they enjoyed seeing other solutions. An Israeli team's sophisticated presentation especially wowed them.
They returned to exams and graduation festivities, as well as preparing for college – Duke University for Sadanani, N.C. State or Cal Tech for Adams.
First, though, Adams faces a more local competition: He needs a summer job.