Marketing STEM subjects, and consequent careers, brings us
up against stereotypes. Those electing to stay with mathematics sometimes presuppose that others drifted away because math was "too hard". That's sometimes true, however many complain of just the opposite, that math is "too soft" when it comes to maintaining physical fitness, and at a young age, that may be a high priority. Even oldsters have been known to deliberately climb stairs when an escalator is available. If opting for technical skills means grooming oneself for life in a cubicle, at a workstation, in a lab coat, this may induce qualms, lose potential recruits. And yet so many careers that require mathematical skills do come with physical challenges. Sailing or rowing a small watercraft from point A to point B on the open ocean is one obvious example, an extreme sport in this day and age. The math involves not only navigation, but knowing one's calorie needs, stocking sufficient provisions. On the other hand, rowing across the Atlantic and Pacific, ala Roz Savage, does involve a lot of "duff time" (is both sedentary *and* a work out), and not everyone is cut out for such marathon exercise. So the challenge, among curriculum designers, is to come up with exercises that do involve leaving one's chair, even leaving the classroom, but are not so "out there" in terms of physical demands that most students will not complete them. http://mybizmo.blogspot.com/2009/10/roz-savage.html My blog post of today, one of many on this topic, focuses on the specific challenges of the urban landscape. As soon as one invokes images of GPS / GIS, using geography as a theme, the scenery tends to magically transform into someplace idyllic, perhaps in Alaska. How did we get here? No one says. In point of fact, if we want to loan out school GPS devices to geo-caching teams, we should think in terms of the city bus and train systems. Walking is not out of the question (on the contrary), nor bicycle riding (though relatively unsafe in many USA cities with no bike lanes / routes / bridges etc. -- on the other hand, some don't have sidewalks either). """ Introducing bus and subway maps from around the world as topologically correct, yet highly simplified (schematic) is a standard data visualization segment. The next step, of actually riding the bus and train systems, in search of some treasure, is where this becomes a sport. """ http://controlroom.blogspot.com/2010/03/for-credit-curriculum-games.html One might suppose this is all far afield and of little relevance to Podunk High in the middle of Middle America. That may be true. This could be tried in London or Vilnius or someplace first. However, in looking over the priorities of many funders, there's a common theme, along with worry about the exodus from technological subjects, and that's the rise in childhood obesity, with all the accompanying complications. Addressing both of these problems with common programming is a somewhat attractive prospect, especially since it matches what the students themselves are saying they'd like. The Hollywood stereotypes associated with "mathematician" sometimes just get in the way. Would someone learning welding ever be likely to succeed in the math world? Why not? Perhaps she's constructing a rhombic tria- contahedron for the State Fair, also knows how to sheer sheep, tune a piano, program a drum machine. Is this a future engineer then? The point of this mental exercise is to challenge stereotypes and not settle too easily for the screenwriter conventions they sell us soap with on TV. Don't believe everything you see on a purely fictional show like NUMB3RS. Learning mathematical concepts while doing manual, energy spending activities is an idea I'm transplanting from Lincoln, Nebraska, where Dr. Bob Fuller has already pioneered what I've called First Person Physics. This is more than just riding roller coasters to experience vector force diagrams. It's more like pre-med, taking the physics of one's own body into account. Even if we don't actually get to scuba (and maybe we do), we learn about Boyle's Law in that context, maybe Avogadro's as well. We're getting briefings similar to what Navy divers get, while learning the math at the same time. http://physics.unl.edu/~rpeg/First_Person_Physics/index.html Mathematicians reading all this may balk at the seeming absence of "proving" or "axioms and theorems" from the above. Busing and training around town with a GPS device, doing chemistry problems along the way (BBQ at the final destination, vegan options available (and more popular in some venues)), may sound like a lot of fun, and maybe a good recruiting device for other departments, but what about "real math" (as in "purely Platonic")? I'm not suggesting we neglect any of this heritage, am merely contextualizing with these framing "language games for credit". One of your puzzles may be to prove something, supply a missing step, identify the missing theorem. That you had to take the bus to get to the puzzle place is just additional topology, added by sponsors (funders) who think competence in getting around your own city is a worthy curriculum objective. Where is such programming being tried? You'd want the adult designers to give it a dry run, work out the kinks. With First Person Physics, we didn't get all that far, although the idea has continued to propagate. Portland, Oregon has several pilots one might consider prototypical. However, I'd consider the whole genre of "off your duff" math to be timely and competitive. The boys scouts and girl scouts have had some good ideas, including a merit badge system, but we need to reinvent, not just coast on 1900s templates. Let's think about relational database technology, Google Earth, XML... boosting the academic content to some world class level. Geography and astronomy should not be allowed to go fallow, even if light pollution obliterates the stars. Use Celestia and Stellarium (both free offerings). Keep telling the epic of humanity's gradually coming to realize that it shares one big ball. Looking at all these bus and subway maps might actually come in useful in that context. And lets not forget about Unicode and those hexadecimal numbers. http://mathforum.org/kb/thread.jspa?forumID=206&threadID=2033943 If wishing to fund the schools directly, then I might suggest tying in with the new Computational Thinking course, which is still flexible enough in theory to accommodate at least a few of these reforms. If the number of offerings along this "digital math track" proliferates, while maintaining close ties with home economics and health, then we might start seeing some positive physical effects in our student body, sooner rather than later. Learning how to follow a recipe may be mathematical, involves fractions, weights and measures. http://mathforum.org/kb/thread.jspa?threadID=2047973&tstart=15 However, in these initial stages, what's important is to add more computer technology to the math curriculum without the implied message that computation is always a sedentary activity. On the contrary, as Wolfram and others have clearly indicated, energy processes, including violent ones such as earthquakes, may be considered computational in nature. Keith Devlin reminds us that animal behavior is likewise mathematics made real. Using one's body and using one's mind need not be mutually exclusive activities -- that's a message we wish to convey. Kirby |
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