Using Math to Answer Real World Questions
Eve Lipton, Upper School Faculty

Here at Forest Ridge, we believe that learning math can’t be divorced from learning how to use math to answer questions about the real world. This takes many forms, some of which are more messy than others.

This week, my class started their new unit on reviewing linear models and systems of linear equations. Inspired by a late-night TV segment, we decided to kick off the unit by looking at data from more than 50 classrooms in the USA and Canada to predict the number of rubber bands that we would need to implode our own pumpkin. Despite difficulty due to old rubber bands that broke and a very strong pumpkin, we did eventually find that our pumpkin required 594 rubber bands to implode – significantly higher that what was predicted by any of our models! Our class found some possible causes for this, which I hope to investigate with them as we move through the topics of polynomial functions and modeling.

Data science is a completely different branch of mathematics, but students in that class have done beautiful work already. Each student chose a topic of relevance to them, and created their own graphic display to capture all sorts of variation. Topics included exploring productivity through the day, music, the time it took to complete homework assignments, doodling, text messages, personal prayers and many more. The creative ways students chose to make this data clear was also specific to the student and their own life – they used images of cats, phonographs or more traditional chart types to display their data depending on their own preferences and the most important features of the data they wanted to display. Through this process, we learned about gathering, cleaning and displaying data, which will be necessary for future work.

Whether it is learning about distance and midpoints with a map of campus, using real home mortgage data and logistic models to determine home mortgage information, or applying what we learned to a video of a FR basketball game, learning math in this way helps to bring the subject alive. By using math to answer questions that arise outside of class, students are able to see how the subject is relevant and useful, and are better able to use what they know in unfamiliar situations. Plus, it makes every class a fun adventure!