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, 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 paper that has the image, table, and graphs shown below:

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.





The snow piled high up the back door….

For those of you in the east coast, particularly from Virginia up through New York, you probably are still digging out from the crazy blizzard that was Jonas. I had about 30 inches at my house, which was wild.  My poor dog took one look and refused to go out – considering the snow is higher than him, you can’t blame him!  I had to dig a tunnel in the back yard, which was no easy task.

Naturally, during the storm there was a lot of news-watching to see what the snow accumulation predictions would be. Also, on Facebook, there were a lot of people posting time-lapsed videos of the snow accumulation from various parts of the country.  My favorite one is posted below – it was posted by Ed Piotrowski of WPDE and shows 40 seconds of snow accumulation of 40″ taken over 27 hours with pictures shot every 2 minutes from a guy named Wayne Bennett’s camera.  Here is the clip:

Of course my first thoughts – wouldn’t this make a great math investigation for students.  How much snow is falling each minute? How does12540761_10208896719685904_6604353696648335492_n it change over time? There are a lot of these time-lapse videos out there, some with actual rulers, where students could actually collect numerical data.  And, now that the storm is over, how long is it going to take for this much snow to melt? Have students look at weather temperatures over the next few days and try to determine melting rates and how long this much snow will take to get rid of. How does rain (predicted in my area tomorrow) impact this? If the snow were rain, how much water is that?  There are a lot of interesting questions and predictions that could be made. Heck – just calculating how many frames were needed to capture the time-lapse would be an interesting math problem.

As I continue to dig out from the storm, I just wanted to share my mathematical thoughts. It’s pretty simple to find real-world math and that sure does make learning math a lot more fun.d