Author Archives: Lucas Allen

Reminiscing at the Illinois State Math Team Championships

Reminiscing at the Illinois State Math Team Championships

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A packed house prepares for a big day of competition and camaraderie

A little over a week ago, the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics held their annual state championship finals on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. For the first time since I left teaching mid-year during the 2014-15 school year, I was able to attend, having missed last year for a family engagement. What a joy to be back on the campus of my alma mater, the place where I first learned that satisfaction could be found in solving challenging mathematical problems, once again watching young people take their first steps into that same world of ideas, competing with their friends, making lifelong memories. There’s definitely a wide range of memories that hit me when I breathe that familiar air at Altgeld Hall, UIUC’s math building, from my days as an undergrad, studying with friends for exams to my days as a graduate student teaching calculus to my years as a math team coach, anxiously waiting in the hall for organizers to post results.

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Though the TI-84 Plus continues to be a popular choice, the TI-Nspire is more prominent with each competition cycle

Though I’m not coaching a team any more, I spent nearly the entire day at the competition. I had the opportunity to reconnect with old colleagues, chat with other coaches, talk to students, and even solve a few math problems. While most of the events aren’t on display for the public, one of the highlights of the day was watching the junior-senior 2-person championship round. This is a very challenging competition, one that most teams put their best competitors on. While the preliminary round isn’t public, the finals are. I had the pleasure of watching a couple of former students compete in the finals, a round that only the top 4 teams from the prelims advance to.

As for the team competition, in the division I coached for many years, 2A, longtime powerhouse University of Chicago Lab School had moved up to 3AA (the odd class numbering system is 1A, 2A, 3AA, 4AA, where the number refers to the school size and the number of A’s refers to the difficulty of the tests taken). “UC-Lab” had won 8 of the 9 previous state titles, the lone blemish coming in 2012 when my own Morton High School students briefly dethroned them. Of course, their move to 3AA meant a new champion would be crowned this year. A familiar face took their place, Mahomet-Seymour, another downstate, public school which had been in the top 5 for many years, and did so in dominating fashion, winning by over 100 points in a competition where the winning score is typically around 800 points. Mahomet-Seymour joins Morton and Herrin as only the only non-Chicago-land schools to win the 2A title since ICTM went to its current competition format in 2001.

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Filing in for the awards ceremony at Huff Hall

While the competition is always intense, the downtime at the state finals is just as sweet. Speaking with a student about their college plans, bumping into an alum who is now attending the University of Illinois, singing the ICTM State Math Team Contest Song, watching students throw a football around the quad, reading the silly math slogans on the various team shirts, they all bring back so many fond memories. I can honestly say that I have no regrets about leaving teaching for the corporate world, but there are a few things I miss about my former profession. At the top of that list is coaching the math team.

 

University of Washington Machine Learning Classification Review

I’ve spent the last couple of months working through course three in the University of Washington’s Machine Learning Specialization on Coursera. Course two was regression (review); the topic of the third course is classification. As has been the case with previous courses, this specialization continues to be taught by Carlos Guestrin and Emily Fox. For… Continue Reading

Book Review: Bedtime Math–A Fun Excuse to Stay up Late Review

Book Review: Bedtime Math–A Fun Excuse to Stay up Late Review

Fresh off her 5th birthday, my oldest daughter has continued to be very interested in books at bedtime. She has also been showing an increasing interest in numbers:  counting anything and everything, flash cards, and number apps on her Kindle Fire. Of course, I find this budding interest in math delightful, and while I don’t… Continue Reading

Graphing Calculator Price Dashboard

Graphing Calculator Price Dashboard

These interactive plots show the prices on Amazon for popular Texas Instruments calculators such as the TI-Nspire CX (review) and TI-84 Plus CE (review) as well as non-TI models like the Casio Prizm (review) and HP Prime (review). The graphs show the last 7 days, and they update every hour, day and night, so check… Continue Reading

TI-Nspire CX OS 4.2 Released

TI-Nspire CX OS 4.2 Released

TI-Nspire CX OS 4.2 has been released on the Texas Instruments website. You can find the release notes on the TI website. There are a few cool new features in this release, including the ability to automatically generate sliders for certain parameters in graphs and notes, manage the settings of connected handhelds through TI-Navigator (this will be… Continue Reading