Engaging Mathematics Faculty Partner John Zobitz

Engaging Mathematics Can Help Close a Gap in Informal Education

A blog post on the CAISE (Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education) website identified a gap in informal education, namely a lack of museum projects that address social issues grounded in math. Museums are increasingly making efforts to address social issues through their programs and exhibits. When they do so, these efforts are generally successful. Developing mathematics-based museum programs could therefore serve as a solution to the relatively low numeracy of U.S. citizens—a social issue in itself considering that many of today’s pressing problems require numerical literacy to be understood and solved.

CAISE tweeted a link to this blog post to SENCER-ISE, an initiative that supports informal science and higher education partnerships addressing social issues. SENCER-ISE in turn tweeted the link to Engaging Mathematics, knowing that the project couples social issues and math.

In the resulting social media discussion, Professor John Zobitz of Augsburg College, an Engaging Mathematics institution, wrote a response explaining how Engaging Mathematics aims “to make mathematics relevant to students’ lives, to connect mathematics learning to the goals and interests that students bring to college, and to show how mathematics relates to other disciplines, important civic questions, and technological challenges.”

In his response, Professor Zobitz welcomed the participation of museums and other informal education organizations as one way to help close the current gap. He wrote:

While the Engaging Mathematics project focuses on integration of social issues with post secondary mathematics curriculum, our hope and core belief is that it will provide a lasting impact beyond the classroom. … As we continue the work of the Engaging Mathematics initiative, we search for new avenues of collaboration or dissemination with museums and other informal science organizations. Collectively our common work broadens the number of projects that couple mathematics with social issues. We welcome the participation of museums in addressing social issues grounded in mathematics.

The original CAISE blog post was co-written by Kris Morrissey, director of the Museology Graduate Program at the University of Washington and founding editor of the journal Museums & Social Issues, and Anna Johnson, Portal to the Public Network specialist at the Pacific Science Center.

Morrissey and Johnson’s post appears in the Building Informal Science Education blog series, an NSF-funded collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the Visitor Studies Association.

Thanks to CAISE for publishing the response, and to John Zobitz for writing it. You can connect with CAISE on Twitter at @informalscience. You can also connect with John Zobitz at @ProfZobitz, SENCER-ISE at @sencerise, and Engaging Mathematics at @MathEngaging.

We would also like to refer readers to one example of a museum dedicated to math, the MoMath, or National Museum of Mathematics, located in New York City. As the museum’s website states, the group that worked to open MoMath “quickly discovered that there was no museum of mathematics in the United States, and yet there was incredible demand for hands-on math programming.” The late Alan Friedman, who served both as project director of SENCER-ISE and director of the New York Hall of Science, was also quoted in an article describing MoMath’s foundation. He said, “There are existing museums, like the New York Hall of Science and the Liberty Science Center, and they all deal a tiny bit with mathematical concepts, but not often. To convert mathematical concepts into exhibitions requires additional work that none of the existing museums have done.” Math-focused museum programs and exhibits are indeed scarce. We hope this is something Engaging Mathematics can help work to improve.

Article originally published on October 21, 2014

Engaging Mathematics Partner to Speak at 7th Annual Flux Course

Engaging Mathematics partner Dr. John Zobitz of Augsburg College will be giving a talk at the upcoming Flux Measurements and Modeling course at the Colorado Mountain Research Station, near Boulder.

The Flux Measurements and Modeling course is an annual two-week course for graduate students, postdoctoral students, and early career scientists. Course topics include measuring leaf-level and ecosystem-scale carbon dioxide and water fluxes, predicting biosphere-atmosphere fluxes from satellite observations, and incorporating measured fluxes into mathematical models. The first week of the course is focused on measurement and instrumentation. During the second week, course participants apply ecological models to analyze data. Participants are expected to complete a practicum and present results at the end of the second week.

Dr. Zobitz’s talk is called “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Data Assimilation.” It will provide a (gentle) mathematical introduction to Bayesian approaches to modeling with data.

To learn more about the two-week flux course, view this short video. You can connect with Dr. Zobitz on Twitter @ProfZobitz.

Article originally published on July 15, 2014. Photo credit: © 2008 Richard Johnson, resized image used, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

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.

Bucki Facilitating

Engaging Mathematics Partners Launch New Initiative

This past weekend, January 24-25, nineteen members of the Engaging Mathematics leadership team, including the partners, advisory board representatives, consultants, and Co-PIs, met in Jersey City, New Jersey to formally begin work on how to “make mathematics relevant to students’ lives, to connect mathematics learning to the goals and interests that students bring to college, and to show how mathematics relates to other disciplines, important civic questions, and technological challenges.”

On the first day of the meeting, the partners from the lead institutions shared and discussed details about the math curricula they had developed, including their intended audiences, the civic topics covered, and the expected rollout of each course or module. Attendees discussed strategies to expand the community of practice by reaching out to peers through academic meetings and conferences. An action planning workshop led by facilitator Jonathan Bucki helped stakeholders to specifically plot activities over the three years of the grant.

Attendees were joined by cadets from the United States Military Academy who shared their experiences with math courses that include civic issues. The cadets also demonstrated mathematical modeling on topics such as power battery loadouts for US soldiers, and the relationships between their costs and weights. Dr. Rikki Wagstrom of Metropolitan State University discussed how she incorporated the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) into her “Mathematics of Sustainability” course.

The second day of the meeting focused on assessment and evaluation. The independent evaluator for Engaging Mathematics, Leo Gafney, discussed his plans and methods for evaluating the project outcomes. Later, Stephen Carroll of Santa Clara University discussed guidelines and best practices for the Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG), which will be used to evaluate student progress in the courses.

“It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm of the project’s faculty members from different institutions as they worked together on planning and as they shared their ideas about teaching mathematics through a variety of civic issues, including environmental sustainability, energy consumption, water resources, and other topics related to local, regional or national needs. I am optimistic that the work the ‘Engaging Mathematics’ faculty are doing will be shared and serve as models (whether full courses or modules that can be used in a course) for the wider SENCER and national mathematics communities,” said Ellen Mappen, an NCSCE consultant with the project.

Following the meeting, Dr. Lynn Gieger of Oglethorpe University, a partner in Engaging Mathematics, shared that, “I came away from the weekend with a much better sense of the larger project as well as our particular role in it.” Dr. Chris Arney, professor of math and Chair of Network Science for the United States Military Academy and member of the advisory board, noted, “I do believe I was re-SENCERized.”

A page focusing on Engaging Mathematics activities and resources is now live here. Over the course of the project, a separate website will be developed and linked to this page. Visitors will be able to peruse the types of courses planned to be enhanced or developed, and additional features will be added to the site to allow project partners to share details on their course development, and once available, the results of course implementations. To learn more about the Engaging Mathematics initiative, please click here.

Article originally published by Kyle Simmons and Christine Marie DeCarlo on January 30, 2014.

Engaging Mathematics Hosts Planning Meeting in New Jersey

As previously announced in the eNews (here), the National Science Foundation recently funded the project Engaging Mathematics, “a strategy and program to make mathematics relevant to students’ lives, to connect mathematics learning to the goals and interests that students bring to college, and to show how mathematics relates to other disciplines, important civic questions, and technological challenges.” On January 24th and 25th, the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement will host the kick-off meeting in Jersey City, NJ.

Engaging Mathematics project leadership includes Wm. David Burns, Principal Investigator, and Co-Principal Investigators Cindy Kaus of Metropolitan State University, Mangala Kothari of LaGuardia Community College, and Frank Wattenberg of the United States Military Academy. Project partners, who will develop the curricula and materials, include Tony Dunlop and Victor Padron of Normandale Community College, Cathy Evins and Barbara Gonzalez of Roosevelt University, Lynn Gieger and John Nardo of Oglethorpe University, Rikki Wagstrom of Metropolitan State University, and John Zobitz of Augsburg College.

During next week’s meeting, 19 of the project’s stakeholders will examine the curricula developed by the partners, discuss the expansion of the community of practice, and more closely plot the trajectory of the project going forward. Jonathan Bucki will facilitate planning discussions. Additional consultation will be provided by Dr. Leo Gafney (the project’s external evaluator), and Eliza Reilly and Ellen Mappen (of the National Center). Advisory board members who will contribute expertise for Engaging Mathematics include David Arney of the US Military Academy, Prabha Betne of LaGuardia Community College, Victor Donnay of Bryn Mawr College, David Ferguson of Stony Brook University, and Susan Forman of Bronx Community College. A summary of the meeting will be featured in a forthcoming edition of the NCSCE eNews.

Article originally published by Kyle Simmons on January 15, 2014.

Engaging Mathematics to Expand SENCER Applications in Mathematics Education

Engaging Mathematics: Building a National Community of Practice is the name for a new three-year initiative supported by the National Science Foundation though its TUES-II program.

Engaging Mathematics (EM) will be organized by faculty colleagues who have successfully incorporated the SENCER ideals and other progressive pedagogies into college-level mathematics education. Over the next three years, the partners will work together to develop, assess and refine courses and modules, sharing them within the community of practice. As the project matures, EM partners will disseminate the results of their labors to the larger higher education community through a variety of media. While EM partners will routinely communicate with the SENCER community and participate in SENCER’s faculty development programs, they will also reach out to—and through—disciplinary societies and others new to SENCER.

In three years, the EM project intends to produce and publish transferable models, offer webinars, and organize local, regional, and national faculty development opportunities. The overall goal is to nurture and support a vibrant community of practice open to those committed to improving mathematics learning by connecting that learning to the great civic challenges of our day.

“Though this wasn’t so in the early years of SENCER, we now have a strong corps of leaders, along with terrific models and other curricular assets, in mathematics,” noted David Burns, NCSCE’s executive director and the PI of the new NSF award. “This grant from NSF will enable a team of scholars who have created many of these assets to work intensively with one another to expand their efforts, connect to new communities, and introduce successful approaches to colleagues around the country.”

“As with all our Center’s initiatives, our goal is to improve learning and strengthen the capacity for responsible civic engagement, ” Burns added. “We are blessed with a terrific team of co-PI’s and campus collaborators who will work to achieve the ambitious goals we set for this project. This is especially important work in the context of our nation’s need to improve our capacity to use mathematics to describe, model, analyze, and make reliable predictions about some of the most vexing problems we face. How to best understand and make decisions about a welter of personal and practical problems that are presented and argued in mathematical or statistical terms is one more challenge we hope to help our students meet.”

Burns, who will serve as principal investigator of Engaging Mathematics, will be joined by a team of co-principal investigators including: Dr. Cindy Kaus of Metropolitan State University, Dr. Mangala Kothari of LaGuardia Community College, and Dr. Frank Wattenberg of the United States Military Academy.

Engaging Mathematics institutional partners include Dr. John Zobitz of Augsburg College, Dr. Victor Padron and Dr. Tony Dunlop of Normandale Community College, Dr. John Nardo and Dr. Lynn Gieger of Oglethorpe University, and Dr. Barbara Gonzalez and Dr. Cathy Evins of Roosevelt University. Dr. Leo Gafney will provide guidance and overall evaluation of Engaging Mathematics activities.

During the term of the project, partners at LaGuardia Community College plan to expand on the successful Project Quantum Leap course Elementary Statistics with Environmental and Social Issues. Metropolitan State University participants will create modules for calculus courses centered on the topic of sustainability. In addition to these newly developed courses, LaGCC and Metro State will also disseminate successful SENCER applications on their campuses to the other Engaging Mathematics partners, and to faculty and administrators locally and nationally.

Augsburg’s focus will be on a project-based calculus endeavor, while Oglethorpe University will create new models for the general education courses required of all students. Roosevelt University partners plan to integrate the SENCER approach into a college algebra course using issues affecting the city of Chicago. Normandale Community College plans to focus on water issues in a general education course, specifically enabling students to create linear and regression models. They also plan to introduce calculus-based group projects into another course.

An overall project goal is to have the newly developed course and modules taught at both the institution where the course was originally developed and at a partner campus. In the end, all the institutional partners will thus have the benefits of several new courses and the PIs and project team will have a better understanding of what is needed to make courses succeed in multiple settings.

Professor Frank Wattenberg of the United States Military Academy will provide guidance and forge connections with other national mathematics innovation initiatives. He will be responsible for connecting our reform efforts to already successful and complementary projects, so that the full advantage of what has been developed and learned by others is available to the EM partners and the SENCER community.

Distinguished educators who will advise Engaging Mathematics partners as they execute activities over the next several years include David C. Arney of the United States Military Academy, Samuel Benigni of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, Prabha Betne of LaGuardia Community College, Victor Donnay of Bryn Mawr College, David Ferguson of Stony Brook University, Susan Forman of CUNY Bronx Community College, and Solomon Garfunkel of COMAP. Additionally, NCSCE senior scholars Ellen Mappen and Eliza Reilly will assist project partners with consultation on planning and dissemination and in transforming their successful courses and modules into SENCER national models.

At its invitation, the Engaging Mathematics leadership team will work with the Mathematical Association of America to disseminate materials, modules/courses, and results to their communities of interest. Additionally, Engaging Mathematics will offer a website where updates and resources developed throughout the initiative will be made available to all interested educators, administrators, and students. Regional meetings, national symposia presentations, and faculty development programs are planned.

Look for reports on the work of the Engaging Mathematics partnerships, along with information on how you and your institution might benefit from the EM project in future editions of the eNews.

Article originally published September 19, 2013.