18 October 2006: Tomorrow, (Thursday), nearly 7,000 students in 200 secondary schools across the country are taking up a maths challenge from NUI Galway. The inaugural PRoblem-solving for Irish Second level Mathematicians (PRISM) contest is the brainchild of NUI Galway mathematicians Dr. James Cruickshank and Dr. Rachel Quinlan, and aims to encourage students to take an interest in problem-solving from an early age.
Each participating school will hold separate hour-long contests for pre-Junior Certificate and post-Junior Certificate students. The contests will feature a series of twenty problems, in multiple-choice format, to challenge the problem-solving dexterity of participants. Marking of answer sheets will be carried out at NUI Galway and other universities.
"We are amazed by the huge interest in and positive response to the contest, commented Dr. James Cruickshank of NUI Galway's Maths Department. "One of the key skills in mathematics is the ability to solve problems. It is also one of the most enjoyable aspects of mathematics - anyone who enjoys a sudoku, or who has solved Rubik's cube can attest to the satisfaction of solving a hard mathematical problem. Mathematical contests, such as PRISM, are a good way to introduce young people to the challenges and rewards of solving interesting mathematical puzzles and problems. We hope that at least some of the PRISM contestants will be inspired by the contest to further develop their problem solving skills".
Another aim of the contest is to identify interested and talented students who might enjoy and benefit from participating in a mathematical enrichment programme at NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, UCC, UCD or UL. Successful participation in one of these programmes will entail regular attendance at lectures and problem-solving sessions at one of these centres, as well as extensive independent practice at problem solving, supported by correspondence with mentors. Participants in the enrichment programmes usually expect to compete in the Irish Mathematical Olympiad, which takes place in May 2007.
"There has been much talk lately of declining standards in second level mathematics. Amid this negativity, it is often forgotten that there are still many excellent teachers and talented students who are interested in mathematics. These people deserve recognition and encouragement from their colleagues in third level institutions. We hope that initiatives like PRISM will help us to develop links with our post primary counterparts, so that students can be encouraged to develop their mathematical skills outside the school curriculum", commented Dr. Rachel Quinlan, NUI Galway's Maths Department.
PRISM is being co-organised by Dr Mark Dukes, School of Mathematical Sciences, UCD, Gordon Lessells, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, UL and Dr Richard Watson, Department of Mathematics, NUI Maynooth. A list of participating schools can be found on http://www.maths.nuigalway.ie/PRISM/