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Normandale Community College: A Place Where Students "See" Math
News - Latest
Monday, 19 May 2014 14:23



In our last issue, Normandale Community College's Mathematics for the Liberal Arts was identified as a course that aims to inspire students to appreciate the mathematics that surrounds them, the mathematics that is hidden in plain sight. According to Normandale Professor Anthony Dunlop, the ultimate goal he envisioned while designing the course was "to have students think of math whenever they are near Minnesota's many waterways, and to have at least an inkling that mathematics and quantitative reasoning [are] vital to understanding and protecting these resources."


The analysis of real data from the nearby Nine Mile Creek Watershed District serves as the instructional framework for Dunlop's course. Although he has used this framework the three previous times he's taught Mathematics for the Liberal Arts, he is eager to expand the course into new areas, and expressed excitement that participating in NCSCE's Engaging Mathematics initiative, which encourages professors to apply the SENCER Ideals to their curricula, will afford him this opportunity. One way he plans to expand the course is by developing new modules. These modules will cover topics such as wildlife management, energy production and use, and water table depletion and replenishment. In keeping with the "math you can see" theme on which his course largely operates, new energy modules will be based on data from a coal-burning plant visible from the Normandale campus. Dunlop states that this "math you can see" way of teaching helps students realize that math is more than "pointless symbol pushing." After taking his course, students "might still dislike mathematics," Dunlop says, "but they can no longer claim it's remote and abstract."

Dunlop also plans to bundle his course materials into a portable curriculum, so that anyone, at any institution, might teach Mathematics for the Liberal Arts. When asked how he plans to make his course transferable to institutions where the Nine Mile Creek Watershed and coal-burning plant are not "visible," Dunlop replied that, while he still needs to do further planning in this area, one possibility is to offer the course's questions and activities as templates, allowing instructors to fill in spreadsheets with data from their own surroundings, which will help ensure all students get the chance to "see" math.

Professor Victor Padron, another member of the Normandale faculty, will also be developing modules for the Engaging Mathematics project. His work will focus on undergraduate research in the areas of groundwater pollution and climate change. Padron's modules will be transferable into any standard-sequence calculus course. These courses are taken mostly by STEM majors, who, Dunlop says, "are not necessarily interested in mathematics." He hopes the SENCER approach of combining civic issues with instruction will pique his students' interest in the subject.

Padron taught a groundwater pollution module once before, during the Fall 2013 semester, as part of Calculus with Linear Algebra and Differential Equations. The module's research projects require students to apply various calculus techniques as they track both the flow of groundwater and the fate of its contaminants. Padron aims to further develop this module by inserting new examples and exercises, expanding MATLAB accessibility, and developing additional support for instructors.

When asked how MATLAB models help students engage with visually elusive groundwater, Padron replied:

"The fact that we are modeling a complex event that is out of sight as ground water makes it necessary to use mathematical models that the computer brings to life. Typically when dealing with data from real events of groundwater pollution, one cannot obtain analytical solutions to the equations involved. A software like MATLAB allows us not only to obtain numerical approximations to the solutions but also to visualize the results, bringing an unseen phenomenon to the surface."

Padron's model on climate change, another less-than-tangible topic, currently exists only as an initial sketch, but will also include mathematical models. Understanding Earth's climate requires an understanding of mathematics, Padron states, adding that, "while controlled physical experiments on climate change are rarely available, mathematical models, computational experiments, and data analysis are the fundamental tools" for studying Earth's climate system.

The White House also sees value in modeling climate change, as evidenced by the recent launch of a new website-climate.data.gov. The site aims, as The New York Times reports, "at turning scientific data about projected droughts and wildfires and the rise in sea levels into eye-catching digital presentations that can be mapped using simple software apps," in the hopes that people will more readily engage with the issue after learning from models how climate change could affect them directly. Padron's models will be conceptual, formulated in terms of mean temperature and thermal energy exchange among latitudes. Although these parameters retain only some fundamental features of the climate system, "they are capable of reproducing relevant complex phenomena with a relatively simple mathematical formulation that is well suited to the undergraduate level of mathematical education," he explains.

For insight into the direction this module may take, browse the Mathematical Association of America's November 2013 issue of the College Mathematics Journal, which Padron cites as an important starting reference. To stay abreast of the rest of Dunlop and Padron's advancements, be sure to follow @MathEngaging on Twitter.

FYI – CELT SoTL Scholars Program, Upcoming Symposium, and Programming Survey CELT SoTL Scholars Program 2014-2015
News - Latest
Monday, 19 May 2014 14:21
Are you interested in learning how to take your innovative teaching projects and making them public? The scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) involves faculty framing and systematically investigating questions related to student learning, with the goal of improving their own classroom as well as advancing practice through peer-reviewed presentations and publications.
Proposals are now being accepted for ISU faculty participation in the CELT SoTL Scholars Program. Participants will conduct their classroom-based research project during the 2014/15 academic year. We anticipate funding up to 8 SoTL Scholars/Scholar teams at $1,250. To learn more about this opportunity, please view our CELT Scholarship of Teaching and Learning SoTL Scholars Program Request for Proposal form.


CELT Morrill Professor Panel and Teaching Poster Symposium
Monday, March 31; 3:30 – 5:00 pm in the Campanile Room of the Memorial Union
Register to attend the Symposium via AccessPlus (click on Employee > HRS Training > Courses)

Help CELT determine next year's faculty development programming!

The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) invites you to fill out a short survey to provide guidance for our faculty development programming on campus. The survey findings will serve as a useful guide in understanding your needs as instructors. This anonymous and voluntary survey will take 5-10 minutes. Your name will not be recorded or linked with your responses. Take Survey: https://classclimate2.its.iastate.edu/classclimate/online.php?p=8CFRA

Prof Roger Falconer's expert opinion on dredging to prevent flooding
News - Latest
Monday, 19 May 2014 14:18
Prof Roger Falconer, CH2M HILL Professor of Water Management at Cardiff University and leader of Cardiff School of Engineering's Hydro-environmental Research Centre, has contributed to the current debate about whether dredging rivers would prevent future flooding in areas like Somerset.


Somerset is currently experiencing severe flooding, and a number of individuals and organisations are discussing whether dredging the help the situation and prevent floods in the future. Drawing on decades of expertise and experience, Prof Falconer has voiced his concerns about this approach:

Flooding"I feel extremely sorry for the people living in the region and I cannot imagine the difficulties which they are experiencing. It must be extremely frustrating for them to be encountering such stress and I can imagine their wish to conclude that a lack of dredging has considerably exacerbated their problems.

"However, I have lectured in hydraulic engineering (in civil engineering) at three universities for over 35 years and have been involved in many environmental impact assessment studies worldwide. Furthermore I am currently President of the International Association of Hydro-environment Engineering and Research. And regrettably I cannot see that dredging would make much impact in alleviating the problems in the Somerset Levels.

"To reduce significantly the peak water levels one needs to increase the hydraulic gradient, i.e. the water surface slope, and thereby increase the flow from the marshes to the sea. This will not be significantly achieved by dredging. What dredging will do is to increase the area of flow, which will marginally increase the flow over the short term. Furthermore, the dredged bed will rapidly readjust itself with time to the natural hydraulic conditions – over a relatively short time – and one is then back to square one, i.e. more flooding and more dredging. Added to this one has climate change and rising sea levels, thereby reducing the hydraulic gradient even further and making the problem worse.

"In my view there are two effective solutions to address the real fundamental hydraulics problem: (i) raise the land, or (ii) lower the sea level and create a much larger hydraulic gradient. The first solution is not practical. The second is. There have been a number of proposals in recent years to build a Bridgwater Bay Lagoon to create renewable energy. Such a structure would involve separating the water level in Bridgwater Bay from that in the Bristol Channel.

"If such a project were to be built then one would have the opportunity of producing clean, green renewable energy, protecting the levels now against excessive flooding, and, in particular, mitigating against the effects of sea level rise and storm surges in the future. In particular, if the impoundment were to be built then it could operate normally under low-flood risk conditions, producing renewable energy. When excessive flooding occurs the electricity supply company could be paid to lower the water level in the Bay to low tide and hold it for much longer than normal. This would create an excessive hydraulic gradient and the Somerset Levels could be drained or, better still, never be allowed to flood in the first place. Hence a Bridgwater Bay lagoon provides a better solution than dredging and has the potential for two very positive benefits: green renewable energy and flood risk reduction and mitigation when needed. That's two for the price of one."

Prof Falconer founded the Hydro-environmental Research Centre in Cardiff School of Engineering in 1997. With colleagues he has recently been awarded a major EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training grant in Water Informatics: Science and Engineering. More information can be found here.alt

Agreement reached towards ending dispute over Panama Canal expansion
News - Latest
Monday, 19 May 2014 14:16
The outline of a deal has been reached towards ending a lengthy budget dispute over the stalled project to expand the Panama canal.


It involves a proposal for insurers Zurich to transfer its surety bond into debt as a financing mechanism to go part way to covering a loan to complete the work.

The administrator of the Panama Canal Authority Jorge Quijano, hopes to find a way to fund 1.6 billion dollars (1.17bn euros) of cost overruns.

"We still have some topics to resolve and we are working in that direction. But patience is not finite and in truth we are thinking that this has to end by no later than next week," Quijano said.

A consortium led by Spain's Sacyr bid over $3bn (2.2bn euros) for the contract to build two new sets of locks for the canal which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Sacyr's bid was one billion less than its nearest competitor.

The dispute over who should fund the overruns has delayed the project by weeks.

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