Friday, May 20, 2011

Where's the Math?

"Where's the Math?" is the name of a research project I have been doing with my advisor Bob Klein over the last several months. We probably should have named it, "Where's the data?" as we have had rather limited success in arranging interviews. In any case, the idea is good; using mathematics as a medium to connect schoolchildren with their community (for both their present and their future). I entered the Student Expo a few weeks ago as part of my enter-as-many-contests-as-possible binge to see if I could rope in a few more spare dollars for the budget. And of course garner some more experience with presentations.

The student response was bittersweet, as summed up by the high-school guy who walked by the poster and muttered to his friends, "Where's the math? It's sure not in MY head!"

The judges, thankfully, looked on the project more favorably and I was able to indeed earn some spare cash. Which was a good thing because, around the same time, Joo and I went in for a checkup just to see if there was anything we should be testing/doing before getting pregnant. Despite having insurance, we received three separate bills for the checkup, each one amounting to almost $200. I was frustrated with the experience and Joo was livid. But I wasn't quite sure where to place my anger; the medical center had provided the services they were supposed to; the insurance company had paid the appropriate money according to our plan; capitalism had set the prices for everything according to supply and demand.

Nevertheless, it was aggravating. We spend so much time/energy budgeting pennies and calculating the costs of various options to save a dollar wherever possible. And then, all of a sudden, $500 flew out the window. Had we known how much the checkup would cost, we never would have done it, but it's not like the grocery store where you can see the per-item price before the purchase. Maybe setting up such a system would be a project for the future... although weighing such decisions on the spot might prove to be a challenging test of priorities.

Anyway, back to the Expo. Here are some of the other math presenters - Bismarc, Ben, and Mason. Ben is one of the other two math students on the Boat of Knowledge project I've been working on.

So, speaking of that boat, here are some pictures from our first expedition out on the Ohio River. This was mostly a trial run to get us used to the water sampling procedures before we actually go out on the river with students. There are four or five schools in our cohort of the program, each with two high school teachers and two grad students (one math and one science in each group for the most part). Then there are a couple education professors, a science professor, and a mathematics professor in addition to the boating crew.

There are several objectives of the program. One is to promote collaboration between disciplines and between educational levels. Another is to make classroom content more relevant by studying issues that are affecting the communities of the students. A third is to do some grad-level research on the water quality/ecosystems. All three of these align well with why I'm entering math education, but all three are also fairly new to me in terms of experience so I'm being flooded with information (luckily, the boat is not).

Alex (in the blue-striped shirt below), my co-teacher, is a math teacher down at South Point High School in the southernmost tip of Ohio. It's a two-hour drive down there for me each week, but well worth it to get in the high school classrooms and remind myself how different they are from the college classes I've been teaching. Alex is a good match for me also: laidback, witty, and technologically savvy.

My role in the lab shown below was recording different quantities. It was rather amazing that they trusted me with the job considering my group presentation a couple weeks ago in which I correctly explained all the higher level math but incorrectly added six single-digit numbers. Oops!

As of now, it looks like I'll be working on three projects this summer. The first will be the Boat of Knowledge - developing a user-friendly interface for a water quality index and some curriculum for a new Statistics class in the fall at South Point. The second will be a bi-annual overview of rural conditions/statistics in each state (to see the 2009 edition and some quick facts about rural demographics in your state, click HERE). The third is still in the preliminary phases, so more on that later. And yes, there was a wedding in the family... that will be coming up in the next blog!

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