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Math Awareness Month: Mathematics, Statistics, and the Data Deluge

The American Mathematical Society, the American Statistical Association, the Mathematical Association of America, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics announce that the theme for Math Awareness Month, April 2012, is Mathematics, Statistics, and the Data Deluge.

NASA Angry Birds partnership

You may have thought Angry Birds is a waste of time. Information Week are reporting that the new Angry Birds Space game was “developed in collaboration with NASA through a Space Act Agreement”, a kind of commercial partnership NASA has used for “more than 50 years”. The article explains:

NASA seized on Angry Birds Space as an opportunity to educate the public on the law of physics that’s fundamental to everything it does: gravity. On NASA.gov, it used the occasion to explain the difference between normal gravity ($1g$), zero gravity ($0g$), and microgravity ($1 \times 10^{-6} g$), and to point out that experiments on the International Space Station happen in a microgravity environment. In a video demo of what that looks like in practice, astronaut Don Pettitt used a slingshot to catapult an Angry Bird across the interior of the Space Station.

The article outlines a series of experiments NASA will be undertaking in microgravity, though really the game is an outreach activity:

NASA hopes that Angry Birds Space will spark kids to take a keener interest in math, physics, and engineering careers… Of course, there’s a gigantic leap from the animated world of flying feathers into the real world of astronomy, aerospace science, and propulsion systems.

Source: Angry Birds Space Mirrors Real Rocket Science.

Edexcel chief says the maths curriculum is failing students

The UK’s national ambition to lead in new high-tech industries is threatened by an alarmingly widespread cultural apathy to maths in this country.
Maths is seen by too many students as something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

It is a cultural and an educational problem.
Our experts in education note that young people don’t see maths as relevant to their lives or ambitions.
For the majority of young people, maths is a meaningless subject, with 85 per cent of students quitting it as soon as they are allowed. For too many, maths is just a series of disconnected techniques and formulae. It seems dry and academic.

We urgently need a new approach that makes innumeracy as unacceptable as illiteracy.

These are not new or surprising sentiments, except that they come from Rod Bristow who, as head of Pearson UK, describes himself in an opinion piece in the Telegraph numeracy campaign as “responsible for one of the biggest exam boards in Britain”. Edexcel, he says, “sets and marks one million mathematics GCSEs, International GCSEs and A-levels every year”.

Many people see the problems Rod describes as being driven by the assessment system, so what does he propose to do about it? “With other exam boards,” he says, “we are already in discussion with the exams regulator Ofqual about how we can further strengthen maths GCSEs”. He gives the following recommendations:

Where young people don’t gain a C grade first time at GCSE, the education system must offer new courses which encourage them to continue with maths.
We can do this by associating maths more closely with other academic disciplines such as the pure and social sciences.
Universities should make mathematical literacy a clearer requirement for entry to those majority of courses which will use it.
We must show how maths is applied in careers from construction to web design.

He also recommends learning through serious games.

Engaging computer games encourage the ‘learning by doing’ essential to building numeracy skills, and we should make clear the role of maths in producing those games in the first place.

If we want our young people to excel and lead the way internationally in maths, we must repurpose our maths teaching, learning and our exams, and use the tools of the future to change the ugly sister culture around mathematics.

Source: Numeracy Campaign: ‘maths curriculum failing to meet the needs of the 21st century’.

Met Office Weather Game – early results

Last summer the Met Office launched an online game to understand how best to present probabilities in weather forecasts. This game was collecting data for a project on perception of probabilities.

The Met Office reports game was played more than 11,000 times. A blog post presents some initial findings:

When faced with straightforward decisions, providing probabilities doesn’t confuse people.
For more complex situations, on average people are able to make better decisions using probabilities.
People make the best decisions when more detailed information on forecast uncertainty is provided.

Data analysis continues.

Met Office: Early results from our record-breaking weather game.

Bridging the Mathematics Gap: your views

The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education have a call for views on post-16 education. This says:

In a speech at the Royal Society in July 2011, the Secretary of State Michael Gove stated his wish that within ten years, all young people would be studying some form of mathematics post-16. ACME is seeking views on how we can make this a reality.

A paper giving some background information & details of how to submit your views are available via the website.

ACME: Bridging the Mathematics Gap : Have Your Say.

Conference: IMA Mathematics 2012

The seventh annual IMA “Mathematics” conference will take place on Thursday 22 March 2012 in London. The website has the following details:

Mathematics 2012 is the seventh in the series of annual IMA conferences to promote mathematics. This series aims to demonstrate to both mathematicians and non mathematicians the many uses of modern mathematics. The work of the speakers this year includes the food industry, defence, finance and government. Also included are current topics in mathematics such as the promotion of mathematics to a wider audience and the interface between school and university mathematics.
We hope that the audience will have mathematicians, those who work with mathematicians in policy forming roles, and anyone who has an interest in developments in the applications of mathematics.

A list of speakers and topics, plus registration details, are available via the IMA website.

IMA: Mathematics 2012.

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