Programme to encourage students to student applied mathematics
By Dr Sinéad Burke
Students to explore how to model real-world problems using maths and stats in a new 12 week Transition Year programme. As part of Science Foundation Ireland’s mission to spread the STEM message, they have funded a new project under the SFI Discover programme to empower students and their teachers to identify and apply the maths and stats that they learn in class to real-world problems. The Young Modellers project led by the University of Limerick will confront students with unfamiliar “real-world” problems. It will empower Transition Year students to explore the modelling needed for problems that do not automatically appear to lend themselves to mathematical analysis; examples includes locating the black box of a crashed aeroplane, forecasting the cost of cancer screening programmes or optimising the operation of a lift in a multi storey building.
The project aims to increase students’ and teachers’ appreciation of the role of STEM and mathematical modelling in our lives. The principal investigator of the project Dr Sinéad Burke stated, “We hope Young Modellers will highlight the wide variety of areas and careers that use mathematical and statistical modelling and encourage young people to study and work in STEM, especially mathematics.” The results from the pilot study, which was led by Professor James Gleeson at UL and Mr. Stephen O’Hara at Clongowes Wood College have been very promising: the percentage of Clongowes students applying to STEM related courses through CAO has more than doubled since the experiment began in 2011. Chris Lumb the Headmaster of Clongowes Wood College stated “we are delighted to have led the pilot study of this ground-breaking mathematical modelling experiment and are excited that Mr. Stephen O’Hara is to the forefront of bringing the programme to schools across Ireland.”
You can read Stephen’s description of a European Study Group with Industry from a teachers perspective here
Many in the science industry or academia will be aware of the noticeable lack of diversity in many workforces, with women and those from minority backgrounds often highlighted as the missing pieces of a potentially brilliant jigsaw puzzle. A 2018 annual survey by the I Wish organisation of more than 2,200 transition year students showed that secondary school girls and their teachers still are not fully aware of the opportunities STEM subjects can open. The survey found that 59% of girls believe they don’t know enough about STEM careers and 93% of teachers say that self-belief in girls’ own ability is a major roadblock to STEM promotion in schools. The Young Modellers programme aims to engage approximately 450 students nationally, including approximately 225 female and 225 male students and 90 students from socially, economically or educationally disadvantaged groups. Historically, the lack of role models has acted as a barrier to female engagement with STEM, with this in mind there is gender balance amongst project team involved in Young Modellers across the University of Limerick, Limerick Institute of Technology and University College Cork.
Currently, approximately 3% of the students doing the Leaving Certificate Examination (the university matriculation examination in the Republic of Ireland) study applied mathematics, 29% higher-level mathematics and 10% study higher-level physics. The Young Modellers project will allow students to “get under the hood”, exploring the basics of modelling real-world problems using concepts from applied maths, maths and physics and will encourage increased numbers to study these subjects at leaving cert.
Margie McCarthy, Interim Director of Science for Society at Science Foundation Ireland, said: “At Science Foundation Ireland we are very pleased to support the Young Modellers initiative, which I am confident will be an enjoyable programme for those in Transition Year. For students at this stage, career choices and ideas for further education start to come to fruition, and it’s crucial that they are given support in exploring the full extent of their options. Mathematics is an important subject underpinning much of technology and innovation development in Ireland today, and empowering teachers and young people to engage with the subject through hands-on problems that they can apply to their everyday lives is fantastic.”
During the 12-week programme students will develop an enhanced understanding of the links between the maths learned at school and the many applications of mathematical sciences in the real-world. The programme will support the development of collaboration, communication, and perseverance skills with students exploring multiple different ways of problem-solving. Recognising that data science has become one of the most desirable and lucrative career options for mathematically-literate graduates, the Young Modellers project will offer students an insight into the mathematical principles underlying real world data problems.
Supporting teachers is a vital component of the Young Modellers project. Director of the MACSI centre at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at UL Prof James Gleeson, EPI*STEM the National Centre of STEM Education, and the lead teacher of the pilot study at Clongowes Wood College Stephen O’Hara will run a 3-day residential teacher-training workshop in Summer 2019. Teachers will also receive ongoing online and offline support when implementing the programme in schools from September to December 2019.
The Young Modellers project is currently recruiting up 15 teachers across 15 schools to participate in the programme, with the training benefit valued at €5,000 per school. The programme has attracted girl, mixed-gender, and DEIS (programme aimed at addressing the educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities) Schools.
Young Modellers is funded by Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme grant 18/DP/5888.