Earth Day!

Today is Earth Day – a perfect link with our Mathematics Awareness Month theme of the Mathematics of Sustainability.

At Bryn Mawr College, we celebrated Earth Day a bit early on Saturday, April 20. There were a wide range of activities around the environment that student groups organized. I contributed an activity called “When will all the ice be gone?” based on a math unit that looks at the extent of sea ice in the Arctic. The challenge is to use the data on sea ice extent over the past two decades to predict in which year the Arctic will first become completely free of ice. I offered a $50 prize to the winner. The catch is – they may have to wait awhile to claim their prize! Take a look at the beautiful and thought provoking video A New Climate State: Arctic Sea Ice 2012 to learn more about the Arctic sea ice melt.

Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced the winners of the second annual Green Ribbon School awards. These awards are given to schools that are exemplary in reducing environmental impact and costs; improving the health and wellness of students and staff; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education, which incorporates STEM, civic skills and green career pathways.

For schools and teachers that want to become Green Ribbon schools but are wondering how to incorporate sustainability into their curriculum, take a look at the Sustainability Counts! section of the Mathematics Awareness Month website. It provides a number of model lessons that demonstrate how one can incorporate mathematics into sustainability education.

On Friday, I will be attending the Earth Day celebration at Abraham Lincoln High School in Philadelphia, which will include the kick-off for their “Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation” mural, which they will paint over the next two years. I look forward to celebrating the excellent work of the students and their teachers – and awarding the school copies of our Mathematics of Sustainability poster.

Victor Donnay
Chair, Mathematics Awareness Month Advisory Committee
Professor of Mathematics
Bryn Mawr College

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Next Generation Science Standards

The Next Generation Science Standards have just been released. These standards recommend the teaching of science via hands-on approaches with a focus on the scientific process rather than memorizing factoids. They propose that climate change be an integral part of science education starting already in middle school. One can imagine great synergistic opportunities between the mathematics of sustainability and these new science standards. Here is an article discussing the new standards.

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Joe Malkevitch on Sustainability

What is the maximum sustainable yield for a particular species of fish? Joe Malkevitch (CUNY) examines this question and more in an AMS Feature Column on math and sustainability. Joe writes about many issues in his column and pays particular attention to sustaining fisheries. As materials on the Mathematics Awareness Month website illustrate, it’s an example of one of the many very complex problems of sustainability.

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts or questions, either here or on Joe’s column.

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Sustainability Counts!

Mathematics Awareness Month (MAM) kicks off today and this year we have a new component – the Sustainability Counts! educational initiative. In honor of MAM, we invite K-16 educators to teach a lesson on math and sustainability. At the Sustainability Counts! webpage, there are a range of model lessons that educators can use including our showcase lesson – the Energy Challenge. Students will learn about the mathematics of energy use at their institution and then develop and implement an action plan to reduce energy use. By tracking how much energy is saved nationally, students will see that while sustainability starts with individual effort, creating a sustainable society requires large-scale cooperation across the nation and around the world.

We have a great collection of essays on math and sustainability as well was an interactive version of the MAM poster which describes ways in which math and sustainability connect. Having been working on developing the materials for Mathematics Awareness Month since last September, the Advisory Committee is excited to share these resources with you. We hope you find them interesting, thought provoking and useful. Many thanks to the team at AMS who worked with us to create this year’s MAM – they have done a terrific job.

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Interactive MAM Poster

There is now an interactive version of the Math and Sustainability poster. Linked to each image is a discussion of how that image relates to math, sustainability and the other images on the poster. Sustainability is a complex system made up of many interconnected pieces, a concept that the interactive poster tries to illustrates.

Submit your own interpretations of how math and sustainability are related by posting comments on the blog.

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Math Dad visits Calculus Class

High School math class getting a jump start on Mathematics Awareness Month.

High School math class getting a jump start on Mathematics Awareness Month.


MAM Advisory Committee Chair Victor Donnay presents Haveford High School mathematics teacher Steve Peterson with a copy of the Mathematics of Sustainability poster.

I got to visit my son Chris’ calculus class today. His teacher Steve Peterson was testing out a module I have been developing for the Sustainability Counts! component of Mathematics Awareness Month. The lesson dealt with CO2 levels in the atmosphere and I wanted to have real students try it out before we posted it online.

The class went great. Steve used the lesson to make creative links to topics that I had not thought much about in developing the lesson -  such as an opportunity to introduce his class to what is meant by a “best fit”. The students were particularly engaged in thinking about what they and their school could do to reduce their carbon emissions. The school already engages in “Power Down Fridays”; the students suggested powering down everyday.

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Math for a Sustainable Future

Just back from attending a three day workshop on Math for a Sustainable Future at the Mathematical Association of America headquarters. There was an engaging and passionate bunch of 25  mathematicians, educators, scientists and sustainability professionals from across the nation working to develop educational modules linking  math and sustainability. The  materials developed at the  workshop will be available to educators world wide through the SERC website.

The workshop is part of the SISL in STEM project: Sustainability Improves Student Learning in STEM in which scholars and professionals in a variety of disciplines will develop educational materials linking their discipline to sustainability. The Math for a Sustainable Future workshop was the kick off for the SISL in Math project;  work to develop materials will be ongoing. Educators are invited to submit their own lesson plans on math and sustainability to the SISL site.

The Sustainability Counts! educational initiative in Math Awareness Month 2013  is encouraging educators to teach a lesson on math and sustainability during April. It will showcase a selection of model lessons including some developed at the workshop.


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NY Times NumberPlay on the Math of Climate Change

Have you ever wondered how greenhouse gases work?  Check out the NY Times NumberPlay post on the Mathematics of Climate Change, by Gary Antonick.  There’s an interesting puzzle to get you thinking about the balance between the energy arriving at the earth and the energy leaving it, and a great description of the remarkable energy capture-and-return process performed by the greenhouse gases.

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Prospects for a Green Mathematics

That’s the title of a blog post by John Baez and David Tanzer about mathematics that will help us understand the biosphere. People can see changes, such as decreases in Arctic ice, but may not see where math is applied to analyzing what’s happening . Baez and Tanzer write that  “While the problems we face have deep roots, major transformations in society have always caused and been helped along by revolutions in mathematics.” They write about tipping points and about how network theory can be applied to several relevant areas. The entire post can be read on the MPE2013 blog.

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Sustainability Education

The 28 February issue of Nature has a nice article on sustainability education: “Environmental puzzle solvers,” by Amanda Mascarelli (pp. 507-9).

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