The STEM Around Us

NCTM Innov8, the new team-based conference that NCTM is sponsoring, is going on right now in St. Louis, Missouri. Our team is there of hqdefaultcourse, supporting math teachers with our technology and a great team-building session based on the Wheel of Fortune and the probabilities of winning (session is Friday, November 18 at 10:45 am in Room 265/266). St. Louis brings to mind the very famous St. Louis Gateway Arch, something math teachers attending will probably be exploring and trying to mathematically represent – is it a parabola? (In fact, it is NOT a parabola, but rather a flattened catenary). (Cool 3D mathematical model here).

This idea of looking at real objects and connecting mathematics to them is something math teachers do often. It makes complete sense, and, as I have been teaching a geometry course for Drexel these last several weeks, I have really deepened my appreciation for this idea of looking at our constructed world to find the mathematical connections and relationships. What I think we tend not to do with students, and what we should do much more of, is go beyond the obvious “shape” explorations and function fitting to explore the STEM connections.

What I mean is after we identify the inherent shapes and/or functions in ‘real-world’ objects, start asking questions that get students thinking about the why behind those shapes. The why questions lead to investigation and research by students into science, technology, engineering, and math applications that would take them much deeper into understanding the world around them. And, I wager, this type of questioning will engage students in learning and applying what they learn in a much more relevant and interesting way.  Giving them purpose for learning. And, as a result, we might have more students going into STEM fields.

Some examples:

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Why, for example, are most buildings polygon shapes, particularly triangles and rectangles? Why don’t we see more circular or cylindrical shapes for buildings, besides the grain silos or water towers? Is there a reason? This is where engineering would come into play – are certain shapes stronger from an engineering perspective?

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Why are science and medical tubes cylindrical? Is their a scientific reason for these shapes/containers? Why not use a prism shape, so then you could set the vials down on a table versus having to store them in special holders so they don’t roll away? Is the shape somehow connected to the way molecules or blood cells behave – i.e. science factors that might determine the tools used.  2791136-image-of-the-motherboard-without-a-pc-processor-closeup

Look at all the different shapes on a computer motherboard – there are cylinders, rectangles, squares, networks of curves/lines of wires, prisms…so many things going on. Students could ask whether certain shapes provide better conductivity? Or heat control? How does the height of a component impact it (notice the different heights of the cylindrical components). I don’t even know the questions to ask here, but this is a great example of where technology comes into play.

I feel that if we allowed students to explore beyond simple things like fitting a function to a curve or identifying shapes in a picture, and really focused on STEM applications and reasons behind the use of those specific shapes, we would be encouraging students creativity, curiosity, and developing research capabilities in order to find solutions. It would be so engaging and really get students interested in those STEM careers, but more importantly, a better understanding of the STEM around them.

 

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Curve Fitting with Prizm Pictures

I’ve been thinking a lot about the upcoming NCTM conference in April, the theme of which is “Building a Bridge to Student Success”.  I am excited to be heading back to NCSM & NCTM this year after having a years hiatus from math conferences.  Can’t wait to meet up with old friends and colleagues, check out what’s happening in math and math technology, and be a part of a vendor booth again. Believe it or not, I actually like being in the Exhibit Hall – it’s very invigorating and I get to connect with math teachers from all over and find out where the “points of pain” are, to use the words of my friend Stephen Reinhart.

I’ve been involved in the Casio planning for NCTM, so bridges have been a big part of my thinking these last few weeks. With that in mind, I have been looking at the Casio Prizm calculator and the built-in picture resources, and found one that is reminiscent, if not actually, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Which led me to playing around with curve fitting and looking for applicable lessons.  There is a whole lesson sampler for the Prizm available free that provides several curve-fitting to picture lessons. You will find not only key strokes for creating the curves and using the pictures, but also questions and resources for the students.

What I love about curve fitting and using real-world pictures is that students are able to see how the math they are learning is actually used and apparent in the world around them. For example – no bridge is built without a lot of math! Prizm has an amazing number of pictures built in that would fit any level of student working with equations and curve fitting – i.e. linear to trigonometric. You can have them plot points and determine their own regression or have the calculator do it, or a combination of both. Lots of options. The point here is that the pictures and line fitting capabilities allow students to problem-solve in a real-world context.  Always a goal in any math class!

I encourage you to check out the Prizm Lesson Sampler yourself. If you don’t have a Casio Prizm of your own, you can test out the emulator free here (fx-CG Manager Plus).  I’ve included a short video showing the basics of accessing the pictures, plotting points, and fitting a regression line.

If you live in Virginia, you can actually attend a free dinner/Prizm workshop in the next two weeks and experience it for yourself. Should be a lot of fun.  Here are the Virginia workshop/dinner dates and links to register:

  1. February 1: Washington County, VA – click here to register
  2. February 2: Roanoke/Salem, VA – click here to register
  3. February 3: Danville County, VA – click here to register
  4. February 8: Rockingham County, VA – click here to register
  5. February 9: Dinwiddie County, VA – click here to register
  6. February 10: Fairfax County, VA – click here to register

Have fun playing!