Hampshire’s First Estimathon: The Success of the Guess

Last Friday, Cole 333 was abuzz with groups of students, staff, and faculty putting their highly acquired mathematical knowledge to the test for the sake of…

…making their best guess?

An “Estimathon” is an event in which participants use their own knowledge to guess an interval which contains the answer to estimation problems, such as, “How many alumni does Hampshire College have?”

In this type of competition, a best, educated guess is what the judges are looking for! Math can often seem like an unfriendly subject because of the idea that there must be a firm, correct answer to every problem. But what about the quantitative skill which we all possess? What about numeracy, or our ability to understand and work with numbers?

The first question asked for the estimate of “how many alumni have graduated from Hampshire College?”. A Hampshire student may know that there are about 200-250 students in their graduating classes. A faculty or staff member may know that Hampshire was founded 53 years ago, in 1965. Their calculation would combine what they both knew about the question (200-250 students x 53 years) to create the interval of 10,600-13,250. This contains the correct answer, 12,356 alumni!

photo of estimathon participants working in groups
Participants work through the problems in teams of 6.

Groups with broader prior knowledges have the best chances of winning, so teamwork was absolutely necessary during this event. During Friday’s event, groups were mixed with students, staff, and faculty, and everyone could use what they knew to make a best guess.

A photo of the Estimathon score board.
Teams were scored in real time.

The best part about the Estimathon is that it emphasizes what a participant does know about numbers. Best case, a participant is an expert on the topic of the question and can make a very informed estimate. In the “worst” case, a team can work together to come up with the best guess (and could just use a wider interval!) This is very much how math is used in the real world. Numbers aren’t often thrown around arbitrarily (no one is going to the grocery store to buy 20 apples and 30 oranges, despite what your textbook would tell you!), numbers are used to count real things, issues, and events. Math is used to understand the world around us. Math can be politicized. Math can be false. When we all can see different things in the world, we all have a different understanding of math.

The table of a group of Estimathon participants.
Teams used their best knowledge to estimate an interval which contained the answer.

Come to next year’s Estimathon to see this idea in action!

The winners of the Estimathon.
This year’s winning team!


The School of Natural Science’s Geremias Polanco teamed up with the Quantitative Resource Center’s Alumni Fellow Audrey Block to plan the Estimathon, with the generous help of Namrata Jacob, Sarah Steely, Naya Gabriel, and Adam Rejto.

Thanks to the funding of School of Natural Science, all participants enjoyed a lunch of pizza and cookies, and the top two winning groups won $15 gift cards to A to Z Science and Learning Store in Northampton, and $10 gift cards to Atkins Market in Amherst. The third place winners could choose between Sudoku puzzle books (thanks to funding from the Knowledge Commons) and Wolfram paper polyhedrons.

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