A five-day lock-in with maths the only topic of conversation would be a nightmare for many.

But for four of Whangarei's brightest boys, it's been good fun, or so they said at the end of the second day of their maths marathon.

Whangarei Boys' High School students Daniel Davis, John Ma, Nick Foulkes and Shivam Khambete are spending this week locked in the school conference room representing New Zealand in the International Mathematical Modelling Challenge. Mathematical modelling is a huge growth area that could earn them big bucks in the future, said teacher-in-charge David Moore.

"[The competition] is judged by the top people across the world in mathematics," Mr Moore said.

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"For these guys to be taking part is a huge, huge deal for them, because the of way maths and economics are going towards the mathematical modelling process."

Mathematical modelling is describing a system using math concepts. The exact problem the boys are working on cannot be covered in detail, due to the competition being ongoing, but Shivam gave a brief description:

"If someone beats the world championship record they get [a prize]," he said. "The people organising this don't have the money to cover it, so they're trying to work out whether to get insurance, or self-insure. There's questions around that."

The boys reckoned they were going well, and at the end of the second day had completed 12 pages of working, in a report they suspected would be about 20 pages in the end. A trip to Hamburg, Germany, was up for grabs for teams that achieved an "outstanding" result.

The boys said the problem had been playing on their mind outside school time, though they were not allowed to work on it outside the team lock-in.

Daniel said the best work had been done in the morning, with a fight to stay focused through the long days.

"There have been elements of [getting distracted]. Continuously doing it gets a bit hard sometimes. We do get back on task sooner or later."

Nick said the process involved breaking each of the five questions into small parts. "We're coming up with formulas, graphing the data and looking for relationships."

The boys, all top achievers in Year 13 calculus, planned to go to university to study subjects including engineering, commerce, medicine and fine arts.

AUT University's Kerri Spooner was co-ordinating the competition and said Whangarei Boys' High was the only New Zealand school involved, with 55 teams from 30 countries competing.