Weather and Integers – The Importance of Real World Connections

A lot of my math teacher friends have been posted images from weather reports on FaceBook and Twitter, like this one to the left from @seemathrun, showing the real-world application of integers due to the extreme weather conditions that are happening across the country right now. It really is a perfect opportunity to show a true application of mathematics that students can definitely relate to, especially if they are in those freezing climates. Add in the wind chill, and you have some interesting data and comparisons and a chance to talk about the relevance of math and understanding numbers.  Here’s an image to the left showing wind chill, temperature, and frost bite times someone else shared that could help explain why so many schools are closed, even though there may not be any snow on the ground, (which is usually the reason behind winter closures). I know one of my colleagues and friends, @ClassPadnut, was sharing with me yesterday that with the wind chill, it was -60 where he lives.  Yikes!!!

There is obviously a lot of different math concepts you could explore with students, dependent on grade level and questions asked. I find the wind chill graph the most interesting. Looking at the wind chill chart, the drop in temperature is almost, but not quite, constant, like you would think – i.e. You will note that there is an equation for the calculation of wind chill at the bottom of the image. I was  curious about whether students could find that connection from the data alone -something to challenge students with. How would they graph this data? Could they? Thinking of statistical tables, what would they enter and what statistical plots would be appropriate? If students are in areas where schools actually closed, you could talk about how the data supports the decisions, and what is the ‘cut-off’ temperature/wind speed that might influence the decision? Lots of things to explore.

I found another image that showed the lowest temperatures reported in each state, so you could do a comparison across states. Even Hawaii is cold!!!  Crazy.  Below is the image, which I then used to enter the data in a table in ClassPad.net, and then make two different plots to represent the data – a histogram and a box-plot. You can see from the box plot five-number summary that the median temperature in the U.S. for this day in January is -40.  Wow!!! (And boy, don’t want to be in Alaska at -80!) Again – think of the interesting class discussions about integers, about how these temperatures will impact things such as the orange crops in Florida or the tourism in Hawaii or California. (Here’s a link to the Classpad.net paper that has the image, table, and graphs shown below: https://classpad.net/classpad/papers/share/b61b70a0-0eed-47da-947a-580e1d835f8d.

As you can see, using what is actually happening right now in our country, i.e. REAL world connections of weather (temperature, wind speed, wind chill), is an amazing opportunity to help students see the relevance of integers and statistics and how this data is being used to make important decisions, such as do we close schools? Who should not venture outside? How long before you get frostbite? The visuals help students ‘see’ mathematics in action, and particularly if we focus on the integer aspect, provide a clear connection to integer addition (and subtraction, depending on the questions asked), something many students struggle with.

Whenever possible, we should be trying to connect the math concepts students are learning and using to a real-world application. Here’s a perfect opportunity, no matter the grade level, to have some great class discussions about the impact of weather on our world, about the relevance of integers, and about how statistical information is important to decision making.

 

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