VictorDonnay of Bryn Mawr College makes mathematics engaging during 2015 SENCER Summer Institute

Victor Donnay Makes Mathematics Engaging, Interdisciplinary, and Relevant to the Real World

Victor Donnay’s plenary address during the 2015 SENCER Summer Institute had a clear goal—to show the connection between mathematics and the issues people care about.

Victor, who is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Chair of Mathematics at Bryn Mawr College and an advisory board member for NCSCE’s Engaging Mathematics initiative, has the same goal for his students.

Victor uses various assignments to make the connection between mathematics and real world issues clear. During his plenary, Victor shared three examples of such assignments with the audience.

In the first assignment Victor shared, students are instructed to take a homework problem and describe in one paragraph how the mathematics involved might be used to address a real world issue. Students post their paragraphs online and read three others posted by their classmates. From this assignment, something like the concept of related rates in calculus transforms from a general question about how quickly two planes move away from each other into a question about how vocabulary growth rates differ for children born into different socioeconomic classes.

In Victor’s second assignment, students find an article about mathematics in a newspaper or on the web and post it to the class website with a one-paragraph summary. They then read three other summaries and write comments on them. This assignment exposes students to real-world, relevant, and newsworthy mathematics.

In the third assignment, which serves as a final project in Victor’s multivariable calculus course, students pick a world topic that interests them and a topic they learned from the course and show how they are connected. Students present their work at a reception where they can discuss their projects with a general audience.

Victor is also highly focused on issues of environmental studies and sustainability. He chairs the college’s Sustainability Leadership Group, directs the Environmental Studies program, and has taught numerous courses that integrate sustainability with mathematics.

In his mathematics of sustainability courses, he focuses on social, economic, and environmental issues, because all three have an impact on sustainability. His students have studied the Rwandan genocide, population growth models, and tipping points.

Victor worked with TED-Ed to create a short animated video on how tipping points relate to the mathematics of climate change. In the video, titled “Our Chaotic Climate,” chaotic billiard motion explains how a two-degree increase in Earth’s average temperature can lead to substantial consequences.

Victor also incorporates service learning into his mathematical modeling and sustainability course, allowing students to work to make a real difference on their campus and in their community. Student projects range from examining the energy footprint for a renovation of the science building to measuring the level of safety of bike routes. Two of Victor’s students were publicly recognized for their efforts in helping Haverford Township apply for a grant from the Pennsylvania Energy Department Authority to help fund a geothermal energy system for the Community Recreation Environmental Center, a direct result of their service-learning project that explored the center’s options for alternative energy sources.

Students react well to being able to make a difference through their course work. As one of Victor’s students said, “The end results of all the projects were pretty satisfying; it made you feel like you were making a contribution and that you might actually be able to affect something.”

Reactions from the plenary audience were largely positive as well. Overheard were comments from attendees along the lines of, “I never knew this was math!” Victor’s plenary did a great job of showing how mathematics relates to current world problems and topics in many other disciplines, from environmental sustainability to social justice. He helped SSI 2015 attendees see that mathematics is accessible, exciting, and important.

For more from Victor’s plenary, please access these resources:

  1. Presentation slides
  2. References
  3. Handout
  4. “Our Chaotic Climate” TED-Ed video
Plenary participants

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)

Credit: Yann Caradec. No changes were made to the original photo. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

Engaging Mathematics To Be Represented at Upcoming March Meetings

March will be a busy time for Engaging Mathematics–we will be represented at several upcoming meetings!

Wm. David Burns (Engaging Math Principal Investigator) and Victor J. Donnay (Engaging Math Advisory Board member) will be speaking at the jointly held Chicago Symposium Series on March 13 and the SCI-Midwest regional meeting on March 14. Both meetings will be held at Northeastern Illinois University.

For the Chicago Symposium series, David will be speaking about “Multidisciplinary Trouble” and offering “Some Thoughts on the Future Directions of Education and Our Democracy”. Victor will be giving a keynote address and offering an interactive session on mathematical lessons that involve sustainability themes, in which all meeting participants can work through problems and develop their own lessons for implementation on their home campuses.

At the regional meeting, David will address the academic structural and cultural barriers to pedagogical progress in STEM fields, and Victor will speak about using service learning involving sustainability in math classes.

Frank Wattenberg (Engaging Math Co-Principal Investigator) will be speaking at the 27th International Conference on Technology in Collegiate Mathematics (ICTCM) from March 12-15 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Frank is organizing a session with three talks on math courses that incorporate meaningful civic applications–the types of math courses that the Engaging Mathematics initiative is working to develop.

We are certainly looking forward to March, and are grateful for the exciting opportunities these meetings offer for our project.

Photo credit: Yann Caradec. No changes were made to the original photo. License.

VictorDonnay of Bryn Mawr College makes mathematics engaging during 2015 SENCER Summer Institute

Mathematics Predicts Our Climate May Be Headed for a Tipping Point

Why is the climate like a billiard game? This isn’t a riddle from Alice in Wonderland, but a question Dr. Victor J. Donnay used math to help answer.

This summer, Victor, who is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Chair of Mathematics at Bryn Mawr College, worked with TED-Ed to create a short animated video on the mathematics of climate change. In the video, titled “Our Chaotic Climate,” chaotic billiard motion explains how a two-degree increase in Earth’s average temperature can lead to substantial consequences, including “more extreme and intense weather events, less predictability, and … less hospitability to human life.”

“Our Chaotic Climate” is a good example of how mathematics can help us understand the most complex and compelling civic issues of our time. Consider the video’s closing comments:

The hypothetical models that mathematicians study in detail may not always look like actual situations, but they can provide a framework and a way of thinking that can be applied to help understand the more complex problems of the real world. In this case, understanding how slight changes in the constraints impacting a system can have massive impacts gives us a greater appreciation for predicting the dangers that we cannot immediately perceive with our own senses, because once the results do become visible, it may already be too late.

In addition to creating educational videos, Victor has appeared on G-town Radio, and his Ordinary Differential Equations in Real World Situations course was selected as a SENCER Model in 2008. He currently serves as an advisory board member for NCSCE’s Engaging Mathematics initiative.

To access the video, along with accompanying educational resources, click here.

mathematics-Donnay

The Summative Successes of Dr. Victor J. Donnay

Congratulations are in order for Dr. Victor J. Donnay, who has not only been named the William R. Kenan, Jr. Chair of Mathematics during Bryn Mawr College’s recent commencement ceremony, but has also appeared on G-town Radio’s talk program “Science 2.0: Science for the Rest of Us” on May 24.

During the radio interview, Dr. Donnay discussed how math relates to environmental sustainability. In case you missed the live stream, or just want to hear it again, you can listen to a recording of the program at Podomatic.

Dr. Donnay currently serves as an advisory board member for NCSCE’s Engaging Mathematics initiative. His Ordinary Differential Equations in Real World Situations course was selected as a SENCER model in 2008. We are proud to have him in the SENCER community, and are pleased to extend our congratulations on his most recent achievements.

Article originally published June 4, 2014.