New Engaging Mathematics Teaching Manual Explores the Calculus of Milkweed and Monarchs

New Engaging Mathematics Teaching Manual Explores the Calculus of Milkweed and Monarchs

Dr. Rikki Wagstrom, an Engaging Mathematics Institutional Partner and Associate Professor of Mathematics at Metropolitan State University, published a teaching manual containing two modules for use in either a standard Calculus I-II sequence or a one-semester applied calculus survey course. The first module, Calculus Exploration 1: Rates of Change, explores declining milkweed abundance in Iowa crop fields and the implications for monarch butterflies. The second module, Calculus Explorations 2: Definite Integrals, explores monarch reproduction, a crucial factor for survival of the species. Rikki’s manual builds upon her previous work that integrates sustainability into algebra courses.

This teaching manual is available for download in ebook, PDF, and Microsoft Word format at the Engaging Mathematics website. Engaging Mathematics has published manuals that help teachers incorporate civic issues such as sustainability, climate change, and water pollution into statistics, algebra, modeling, and other mathematics courses. New manuals will continue to be shared as the work of Engaging Mathematics continues. View all Engaging Mathematics teaching manuals.

Engaging Mathematics Leads Hands-On Session and Delivers Plenary Address during 15th Annual SSI

During the 15th Annual SENCER Summer Institute held last week at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the Engaging Mathematics initiative led a hands-on session in which participants tried out lessons and curricular units that faculty from the Engaging Math project have developed, all of which illustrate how to connect important topics in mathematics to a variety of civic issues. We are pleased to share these lessons and associated materials here on our project website, so that even if you weren’t able to join us in Worcester, you will still be able to access and use the Engaging Mathematics lessons in your own classroom, with your own students.

The lessons cover civic topics in environmental science, health, social justice, and sustainability, and are applicable to statistics, college algebra, pre-calculus, calculus, and mathematics for liberal arts courses. For an outline of the agenda of the hands-on session, links to lessons and materials covered by session presenters, and links to our Engaging Mathematics Advisory Board member Victor Donnay’s plenary slides, references, and handouts, please see the document below:

Download (PDF, 101KB)

Sustainable Scholarship

Dr. Rikki Wagstrom first offered a SENCER math course at Metropolitan State University, a lead institution for NCSCE’s Engaging Mathematics initiative, in the fall of 2008. At the 2006 SENCER Summer Institute, she noticed that most SENCER courses were science courses. This inspired her to SENCERize a math course, Metro State’s Math 101, by integrating it with sustainability issues. Her course design was informed by the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). SoTL encourages instructors to research how their teaching methods affect learning and then publicize their findings, helping to advance both the teaching and learning aspects of education.

“Using a SoTL approach forced me to think strategically about the course design,” Wagstrom says. “I knew I wanted to integrate sustainability topics into the Math 101 course, ultimately to investigate the impact on student learning. So I considered from the very beginning what aspects of student learning I was interested in studying and immediately developed preliminary assessment instruments. Having these end targets in my mind helped me focus, structure, and revise the curriculum. My SoTL work made me much more aware of the relationship between how I approach new topics and what students actually learn. By regularly evaluating my students’ work in conjunction with the SoTL project, I discovered how they made sense of the topics they were studying. I would then revise the curriculum in light of their experience and backgrounds, and outcomes subsequently improved.”

Another influence on Math 101’s SENCERization was Kennesaw State College’s Earth Algebra course, which teaches college-level algebra through the context of global warming. Earth Algebra was the result of a FIPSE-funded project. The principal investigators for the project conducted a study of the course’s effectiveness, and found that the civically centered curriculum caused students to make gains in both their views toward mathematics and their abilities to perform data analysis and mathematical modeling, while obtaining no less significant knowledge of algebra than students in traditional courses.

Dr. Wagstrom also conducted a study of her Math 101 course, but did so without the benefits of funding and collaborators, as the Kennesaw study had. Her results showed that integrating sustainability issues into her course was as effective at building students’ mathematical skills as a traditional algebra course, and often better. Additionally, it increased students’ confidence with, and interest in, the subject. An article describing Dr. Wagstrom’s research was published in the Summer 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed Science Education and Civic Engagement: an International Journal, and a detailed account of her study also appears as a chapter in Doing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Mathematics.

The observed student-learning gains from Dr. Wagstrom’s Math 101 course led her to receive a Center for Teaching and Learning STEM grant from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to expand her earlier work by creating a Math 102 course called Mathematics of Sustainability. This course counts for both a general education and college algebra credit, and covers mathematical topics from environmental, social, and economic perspectives.

Before she packages Mathematics of Sustainability into a teaching manual, which will be published online in December 2014 as part of the Engaging Mathematics initiative, she intends to add a two-part activity on monarch butterflies and a two-part activity on wind energy that will explore both the science and financial viability of the energy source. She would also like to develop a curriculum related to ocean acidification.

In addition, Dr. Wagstrom plans on creating new resources for a Calculus II course that will teach students to model such topics as energy consumption, population dynamics, economic multipliers, the case for buying local, and debt. She will begin developing the curriculum for this course during the fall 2014 and spring 2015 semesters. The course will be offered in spring or summer 2015, and packaged and published online by December 2015.

For updates on how Dr. Wagstrom’s course developments progress, check future issues of the eNews, and follow Engaging Mathematics on Twitter @MathEngaging to stay informed about the rest of the project.

The photograph above is licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0. It appears here in its original form. © Copyright 2013 David Levinson “Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed”

Article originally published by Christine Marie DeCarlo on May 8, 2014.

Abroad Approach to Calculus

Studying abroad—is it even an option for math and science majors? Professor John Zobitz of Augsburg College believes that it should be, and is designing a projects-based calculus course for NCSCE’s Engaging Mathematics initiative with this belief in mind.

“Because STEM coursework is highly structured,” Zobitz says, “many students [majoring in a STEM field] cannot make study abroad work.” He explains that his new calculus course will address this issue by integrating travel into the curriculum, making trips relevant to what his students are learning.

The inspiration for the course comes from Zobitz’s own experience abroad. In the spring of 2012, during Augsburg’s spring break, Zobitz, along with fellow math professor Tracy Bibelnieks, led seven math students to Nicaragua. The group spent most of their time at the Fair Trade Certified™ GARBO Coffee Cooperative, located in Peñas Blancas (Spanish for “White Rocks”). Though relatively unknown to tourists, the area, located in northern Nicaragua, boasts geographically interesting and visually arresting white cliffs, as referenced by the town’s name.

At the time of the group’s visit, GARBO was planning to open their family-owned farms to eco-tourists. Eco-tourism would not only generate additional, more stable revenue for the Cooperative, it would also allow GARBO’s women and youth to play a more active role in the community, since they would be responsible for preparing food and managing lodging for guests.

Zobitz and Bibelnieks used GARBO’s interest in eco-tourism as the instructional focus for their week abroad. Students worked with the two professors, as well as with Cooperative members, to model the expenses and profits associated with hosting visitors at GARBO. On the last day of the trip, students presented the results of their study to the Cooperative, suggesting possible enhancements that tourists would enjoy, and recommending investment priorities to the Cooperative’s members.

The benefits of the trip were mutual. Students who may have felt that rigorous course loads excluded them from studying abroad were given the opportunity to travel without having to delay graduation, while members of the GARBO Coffee Cooperative were provided with mathematically sound suggestions for developing eco-tourism. The Cooperative’s women also gained a larger decision-making role as a result of the trip, since students sited the significant contributions women would make by hosting visitors.

Zobitz will let Nicaragua’s specific issues inform project themes for his new calculus course, and will continue bringing his students to the GARBO Coffee Cooperative. The new course’s design and structure, however, will be translatable to other contexts and countries. This transferability will allow Engaging Mathematics’ partners to adapt Zobitz’s curriculum for their own classrooms, based upon their own interests and travel preferences.

By spring of 2014, Zobitz will have discussed curriculum development with his colleagues in Augsburg’s mathematics department. In summer of 2014, he will begin creating the new curriculum and merging it with existing course content. He aims to launch the new curriculum in the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 semesters.

For more information about Professors Zobitz and Bibelnieks’ trip to Nicaragua, read their write-up in the October/November 2012 issue of MAA Focus. You can also connect with Zobitz and Bibelnieks on Twitter—@ProfZobitz and @DrTBibel, respectively—and be sure to follow @MathEngaging for tweets about Engaging Mathematics partners and projects.

Article originally published by Christine Marie DeCarlo on February 26, 2014.