Upon encountering a mathematics topic such as logarithms, students in typical introductory mathematics classes often ask “When will I ever use this math?” Without seeing relevant applications, students lose motivation and without motivation, they struggle to learn the concepts. In contrast, when students are first presented with authentic, important, “Big Questions” concerning valuable real world topics, they often learn the math just in time to address the topics and as a result they cannot help but be more motivated and engaged. Our interactions with each other and our planet generate these “Big Questions,” addressing issues such as energy, water, food, air quality, health, quality of life, and climate change. One of the goals of MPE2013 is to collect, develop, and disseminate educational materials that highlight the role mathematics plays in helping us understand our planet and ourselves.
As part of the United States launch of MPE2013, pedagogical talks on Integrating the Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013 in the College Mathematics Curriculum will be presented next week during the Joint Mathematical Meetings, the world’s largest annual mathematics conference in San Diego, California. The talks will address how to incorporate a wide variety of key issues related to the planet Earth in mathematics classes at varying curricular levels.
Planet Earth inspired presentation topics include:
• Nonrenewable energy sources; a study of how long they will last and exploration of optimization methods for managing a dwindling supply.
• Water resources; ways to use real data to develop sustainable usage strategies.
• Arctic sea ice; a project that examines how data can be used to tell us about the past and the future.
• Global air temperature change; an investigation of its impact on the frequency of extreme weather events.
• Ozone depletion; accessible data analysis techniques allow for student self-discovery of possible future problems.
Development of new teaching materials is a highlighted activity within the MPE2013 educational program. For example, the Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science (DIMACS) will be releasing a set of sustainability focused modules during JMM and the Mathematical Association of America Professional Enhancement Program (MAA PREP) sponsored workshop Educating with Math for a Sustainable Future similarly will release a set of materials for classroom use later this year. Planning for future MPE curriculum development workshops, including the MAA PREP funded Undergraduate Sustainability Experiences in Mathematics (USE Math) on Your Campus and the NSF funded MPE 2013+ Workshop on Education for the Planet Earth of Tomorrow is underway.
To encourage easy access to these and other K-16 focused, MPE-related resources, MPE2013 has created a dedicated MPE2013 Curriculum Materials webpage. This site includes a link to an open submission form that allows anyone to submit a brief description and link to materials that they would like to share on the MPE site.
This is just an introduction to the MPE-themed educational activity planned for this year and beyond, but it exemplifies the educational goals of MPE2013; to encourage the development of a mathematically literate generation that is aware of the challenges we face and is motivated to solve them.