The Clarke County School Board heard from exceptional students doing exceptional things last week. Students from D. G. Cooley Elementary demonstrated their expertise with a captivating new table-top competition designed to build cognitive and coordination skills called “cup stacking” while two high school students described their experience competing in “Moody’s Mega Math Challenge”, a nationwide math competition.
“Cup Stacking”, also known as “sport stacking”, has a simple premise; Using a set of plastic cups, create pre-defined geometric formations by stacking the cups vertically on stacking mats. The goal of the game is to see how fast you can get it done.
“As you will see” D. G. Cooley physical education teacher Amy Lowell told the School Board just prior to a cup stacking demonstration performed by her students “the completion requires extensive hand-to-eye coordination and dexterity.
Four students lined up in front of tables facing the School Board member. At Lowell’s signal, each of the students grabbed a set of colorful cups. Students used both hands to quickly arrange a row of cups on a stacking mat. With blinding speed, the next row of cups were gathered and quickly placed on top of the other cups to create a pyramid. A final cup was then balanced on the top before the steps were reversed to bring the cups back to their nested position with the drinking side down.
Lowell said that whether considered as a game or as a sport, successful cup stacking takes consistent practice and patience.
Although Lowell’s students made the stacking activity look pretty easy, it was clear that the higher the stack grew, the harder activity gets. Coupled with the pressure of trying to stack as fast as possible, either to beat a personal speed record or in competition with other student stackers, it is easy to see why students love the activity.
Lowell’s students performed with specially designed plastic cups, made to prevent sticking to one another and with holes in the bottom to allow air to pass through quickly when stacking. The cups are designed with ribs reinforcing a ledge inside to keep them slightly apart when nested, so they can be quickly separated
Lowell told the School Board that cup stacking has many benefits for students and a quick scan of the academic research uncovers evidence to back up her claim.
A study by at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse confirms that cup stacking improves hand-eye coordination and reaction time by up to 30 percent. Towson University research studied the influence of cup stacking participation in a 6-week bi-manual coordination program on Grade 5 students’ reading achievement. A significant increase was found for the experimental group on comprehension skills, proving that stacking may improve students’ reading comprehension skills, regardless of the student’s sex.
After a dizzying cup stacking demonstration, the School Board turned its attention to two high school academic dazzlers, Conor Mettenburg and Bryan Murphy.
Clarke County High School mathematics department chair Laurie Barbagallo told the School Board that Mettenburg and Murphy, along with student teams across the country, had dedicated a recent Saturday to compete for scholarship money from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.
“Conor and Bryan, along with all of the other students who participated, were given a very challenging problem to solve” Barbagallo said.
The problem was posed in the form of a Department of the Interior request to develop a mathematical model to estimate the impact previous drought conditions on Lake Powell and to develop a five-year plan for estimating water levels in the reservoir.
(Click to view the Moody’s Mega Math Challenge 2011 problem) Megamath
The students were told that Lake Powell, the second largest reservoir in the United States, is a source of power generation, a water storage system and a recreational area. The lake was at 97% of its full capacity near the end of 1999, but a long term drought reduced the lake to about 60% of capacity at the end of 2010. Estimates of future Colorado River inflows to take Powell vary between a low of 39% of average to 137% of average, with 83% being most likely. The average inflow rate is approximately 12.0 million acre-feet per year.
Mettenburg and Murphy were told to assume that the inflow predictions would persist for the next five years, and provide estimates based on low, high and most likely inflows, of Lake Powell’s percentage of capacity over the five year period.
“We spent a couple of hours just staring at the problem” said Conor Mettenburg. “I liked the challenge because it was a real-world application of math. Even though the problem was very challenging it was a lot of fun.
The duo said that they spent 14 hours sequestered in a CCHS classroom working on their solution.
“I think that we’re still recovering from last Saturday” Bryan Murphy told the School Board. “I thing that our brains our fried.”
“As a teacher, this is the kind of activity that you live for” Barbagallo said. “There was real problem solving going on during the competition. Over 3200 students participated in the event.”
Barbagallo said that at the end of the event, Mettenburg and Murphy were able to submit a partial solution to the Lake Powell problem and a national winner is expected to be announced in six to eight weeks.
The top six solutions submitted will split $100K in scholarship money Barbagallo said.