Earlier this week my sister-in-law (“SIL” from now on) sent me an email asking for help. She’s a dance teacher, and her class need to rehearse their group pieces before their exam. She’d been trying to work out how to timetable the groups’ rehearsals, and couldn’t make it all fit together. So of course, she asked her friendly neighbourhood mathmo for help.
My initial reply was cheery and optimistic. It’s always good to let people think you know what you’re doing: much like one of Evel Knievel’s stunts, it makes you look even better on the occasions you succeed.
I’d half-remembered Katie’s friend’s Dad’s golf tournament problem and made a guess about the root of the difficulty she was having, but on closer inspection it wasn’t quite the same. I’m going to try to recount the process of coming up with an answer as it happened, with wrong turns and half-baked ideas included.
You may recall that a while ago I wrote about Picture this!, an interactive problem/puzzle developed by one of our supported projects at work. Now the same group have developed a problem solving ‘starting point’ on linear programming.
The problem pits you as a toy manufacturer producing wooden dolls and trains, with a limited number of carpentry hours available per day. You are invited to consider questions around how many of each object can be produced and what can be done to optimise profit.
Two more interactive problem starting points will be ready in due course but for now please try this one and, importantly, provide feedback.
Important: Once you have played with the virtual problem solving environment, please fill out this survey from the researchers. The researchers have said to me that they are happy for the page to be public and hope that anyone who uses it will fill out the survey. Doing so, you will help the researchers discover whether the use of this software to present problems is worthwhile and beneficial. The survey asks if you are a student or a tutor. If you choose “student” you will be asked about your use of the simulation and your understanding of the underlying mathematics. If you choose “tutor” (or leave the question blank) you will be asked about how you used it with undergraduate students.
This project seeks to produce “a virtual problem solving environment which hosts problems suitable for a range of undergraduate mathematics courses“. If you want to find out more about this project then you can read the interim report from this project over on my work blog.