Wayzata HS M3 Challenge team - 2020

Wayzata High School's M3 Challenge team. Top row, from left: Andrew Yang, Audrey Yang and Brian Lin. Bottom row, from left: George Lyu, Zachary Xiong and coach William Skerbitz.

PLYMOUTH — A team from Wayzata High School will compete against seven other teams from across the country in the MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge finals.

The students — George Lyu, Zachary Xiong, Brian Lin, Audrey Yang and Andrew Yang — advanced to the finals, where they'll compete for a share of $100,000 in scholarship money, a Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics news release said. The winning team will receive $20,000.

The finals will be different this year. Instead of an all-day, in-person competition in New York City, the challenge will be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The final ranking is scheduled to be announced on April 27.

For the challenge, students had 14 hours to come up with a mathematical models-based solution to the issue of transitioning to sustainable, large-scale electric trucking in the United States, the release said. Teams had to predict the percentage of semi-trucks that will be electric in the future in order to determine where charging stations should be added along major trucking routes, as well as consider other factors in adding electric-charging infrastructure.

“It is important for students to realize that the way many of us typically learn mathematics often differs drastically from the way many of us will ultimately use mathematics," said Wayzata High School teacher William Skerbitz, who coached the team ahead of the 14-hour challenge.

Skerbitz said he encourages his students to participate in modeling opportunities and answer open-ended questions like what students do in the M3 Challenge because it requires them to use math in a way they typically don't. 

"Researching, carefully clarifying and refining questions, stating assumptions, validating models, analyzing sensitivity to initial conditions — these are all foreign ideas to a typical secondary school mathematics curriculum," Skerbitz said, noting it will lead to students becoming "more informed and capable problem solvers in all walks of life.”

The challenge drew more than 3,500 11th- and 12th-grade participants from across the country. The competition’s website is m3challenge.siam.org.

Melissa Turtinen is the community editor for Lakeshore Weekly News and Eden Prairie News. She's passionate about adding context to stories and informing people about what's going on in their community. She enjoys being outside, traveling and good beer.