Hi I’m Dave Bourell, State Director of the UIL Calculator Applications Contest, and I’m here to explain something about what the contest is all about and whether you might like to be involved in it yourself.
This contest is a pre-engineering contest that emphasis problem solving. That’s what engineers do benefit society by solving problems. Even if you haven’t thought about engineering as a career and I’d hope you would, this contest is designed to help you with applying mathematical principles to real life situations. Persons whom might be attracted to this contest need to be good at math and should enjoy real life problem solving on a hand held calculator.
So lets talk about the contest itself. There are 70 problems on each contest and it is thirty minutes long. We strive of course to exercise the features of handheld calculators. So punching numbers quickly and accurately is important. You must have knowledge of basic mathematical formulas and unit conversions since many are required for problem solving and not are given on the test.
Did you ever wonder how many songs you can store on your iPod? Or at the grocery store, whether you should buy regular size or economy size laundry detergent? If I’m running late how fast do I need to drive to get where I’m going on time? Figure out how long it would take to paint the Golden Gate Bridge? What’s the percent of the area of the US flag that’s red?
The point is that mathematical principles can be applied to almost every part of our existence. And the calculator can help us get numerical answers fast. That’s one thing about the Calculator Applications contest. We strive to deal with real life situations so its important to look at the world and ask questions.
There are two impacts of this on the contest. First, the problems use real life information. You can trust that the info provided is based on actual research and is reasonably accurate. Second, since the natural world usually is reliable and doesn’t play tricks on us. problems on the contest are designed to look right. That is if there is a triangle on the test with an angle that’s drawn clearly less than 90 degrees, you can assume correctly that the angle is less than 90 degrees. Problems generally start out easy and become more challenging as you progress through the test. For scoring you get five points for every correct answer so a perfect score is 7 times 5 or 350 points. Skipped problems and incorrect answers result in -2 point penalties. So the lowest possible score is -2 times 70 or -140 points.
Perhaps the most common question I’m asked is what kind of calculator to use on the contest. We don’t have a list of approved or outlawed calculators, and the restrictions are minimal. It must be or have been commercially available. Silent, handheld and not user modified. 2 calculators are allowed. For some the second calculator is a backup but for most the calculators have specific features for specific problems. For example, the graphing calculators are useful for solving complex equations and doing calculus. But the Hewlett Packard so called reverse polish notation calculators are lightning fast on the number crunchers. A survey of calculators brought to the state meet is published in the leaguer and is available at the UIL contest website. Keep in mind that the purpose of the contest is to measure the skill of the calculator user not to reward the person with the fastest or most expensive calculator. No calculator has enough features to make up for poor practice regiment.
There are resources available from the UIL to help contestants and coaches prepare for the Calculator Applications Contest. First, is the contest manual. It includes information on how to get started with the contest. How to write answers. And if you’re a coach, how to get the contest going at your school. Also included in the Contest Manual is information on what unit conversions and equations must be memorized by the contestant.
There are two companion manuals to the contest manual. First is a practice manual for numerical problems it is essentially the number crunchers extracted from 26 tests. The other manual is for stated and geometry problem practice, it contains 1500 thematically organized problems with answers. The UIL also sells full contests and answer keys from previous years. And you might consider joining us at one of the fall student activities conferences. So that’s it for the UIL Calculator Applications Contest. I hope you’ll consider being involved and I hope to see you at the state meet.