Pressing Toward the Prize

Posts Tagged ‘statistics

In Capstone Seminar this week, we were treated to presentations in which nine different students shared the plans for his or her Capstone project. It was quite interesting to see the wide range of topics represented. One student will be programming virtual manipulatives (hands-on, interactive math learning tools) for mobile devices, one will be studying stocks, another dimension, and yet another will be evaluating Standards Based Grading in mathematics for secondary students. A couple of the students will be pursuing statistical topics, one involving Major League Baseball players and another looking at case control studies. In addition, modular origami and the Monte Carlo method will be explored. All of these are worthy topics, but my personal favorite is the study of traffic jams. Who has not been driving along and come upon a slow-down or back-up with no apparent cause? How frustrating! One student will be studying these “jamitons” in the hopes of using mathematics to gain insight into, and possible solutions for, such phenomenon. For all our sakes, I wish him well in his endeavor!

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In Capstone Seminar today we were introduced to the faculty members of the math department at PLU. Each professor gave a brief presentation of his or her areas of expertise, as well as some ideas for interesting Capstone projects. I was impressed by the wide array of mathematical fields represented by the nine professors, as well as the variation among the professors themselves. One works almost exclusively with probability and statistics, and another prefers topology and geometry, having declared statistics “boring.” There was so much information given that it was hard to take it all in, but many wonderful ideas were presented. With so much variety, I cannot imagine any of my fellow students not finding at least one topic that sparked his or her interest.

I am not very spatial in my thinking, so topology and geometry may not be the best for me, although I find them both quite interesting. I struggled a bit with multivariate calculus for that reason: I could do the math with no problem, but I sometimes had trouble “seeing” what was going on. At first blush, there were two topics that caught my attention. One had to do with educational assessments, involving both theory and development, and the other was number theory. I checked out some websites to investigate exactly what number theory entails, and I discovered that it is a very large branch of mathematics. Something that caught my eye, however, is the study of Diophantine equations, or equations that have only integer solutions, of which Fermat’s last theorem is one. I am not sure if either one of these topics will lead to my Capstone project, but they are possibilities to explore.

While perusing the website Teaching College Math, I came upon a blog entitled Mathematics of Coercion. I was immediately intrigued, and discovered it was actually a review of a video on TED Talk called “Bruce Bueno de Mesquita Predicts Iran’s Future.” Apparently Mr. Bueno de Mesquita has created a model using mathematical analysis to make predictions about complicated issues involving negotiations, such as war and politics.

After watching the video, I was a bit disappointed that even though there are a couple of references to mathematics, nothing of substance is offered. He mentions game theory, and that the factorial is used in determining the number of interactions of n people influencing an issue, but he never explains how he quantifies the various characteristics of the “influencers,” or how math is used in his simulation computer program. He does state that his predictions are based on estimations of future behavior, not statistics of past behavior. So even though we don’t really know what he does use, he makes it clear what he doesn’t, and no statistics are needed!

I was recently discussing with my math professor and a fellow student the relevance, or lack thereof, of current math courses to high school students. When I commented I wasn’t sure if it was the relevance of the courses, or the marketing of those courses, that was the problem, my professor directed me to a video of a talk given by another math professor, Arthur Benjamin. In it he explains why he feels that making calculus the pinnacle of the high school math curriculum is not the best, and that students (and society) would be better served if learning probability and statistics was the zenith. He does not minimize the value of calculus for certain students, but he feels it is not relevant to our everyday lives in the way that probability and statistics are.

After taking my first statistics course, I was so impressed by the relevance of the material that I began to believe, and still do, that everyone in America should know statistics. If followed, Professor Benjamin’s “formula for changing math education” would make that possible. We are so inundated in our culture with facts, figures, and persuasive techniques involving statistics (think sports, politics, lotteries, advertising), that one needs to be able to sift through the rhetoric in order to recognize the reality. If one more fully understands the data being presented, one can make more informed decisions. It would seem, then, that I have had to re-think my position on high school math in favor of changing the current course offerings and emphasis to bring more relevance to our students. And as Professor Benjamin points out, probability and statistics involve uncertainty and risk, which are clearly relevant to our everyday lives.



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  • gramsonjanessa: I can't wait to listen to your capstone presentation in the spring! Your proposal was really interesting and I'm interested to see how the linear alge
  • dewittda: This is impressive! I thought I was good because I solved a rubik‚Äôs cube once in an hour. I served with a guy in the Air Force who could solve a r
  • ZeroSum Ruler: The Euclidean algorithm should me the mainstream way we teach students how to find the GCF. Why isn't it? A mystery.

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