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03-10-2014

Clarkson University Professor's Handbook an Invitation to Speak Math

Mathematics is a universal language, but unfortunately, it's one that many people don't speak well. To help resolve that situation, Clarkson University Associate Professor Kathleen Fowler helped write a guide that will encourage math students and their teachers.

Kathleen FowlerAlong with two colleagues, Quinnipiac University Assistant Professor Karen Bliss and Shippensburg University Assistant Professor Ben Galluzzo, Fowler spent more than a year creating a math modeling handbook that clarifies open-ended math problems. Unlike traditional word problems that seek one correct answer, math modeling allows for creativity and research. It hones reasoning skills for real-world challenges that students will face. As an added boost for teachers, the handbook includes information on making connections to Common Core State Standards.

“Math modeling can be intimidating if you've never done it before,” Fowler says. “We want to demystify it to help offer an additional skill set for students.”

A Plattsburgh, N.Y., native, Fowler joined the faculty at Clarkson in 2003 and often works with high school and college math competitions. She's on the problem development committee for Moody's Mega Math Challenge.

“The feedback we usually get is 'I don't know how to start to solve this kind of problem.' That's why Michelle Montgomery, who runs the competition, approached us about writing the handbook," Fowler says. "The Society for Industrial & Applied Mathematics (SIAM) published it with funding from the Moody’s Foundation and the National Science Foundation. Thousands of handbooks will be given to past high school coaches for the Challenge and to many undergraduate department chairs across the U.S. Free downloads are available online, as well.”

As an associate professor in mathematics and computer science, Fowler collaborates with scientists and engineers to tackle real-world problems in many fields. Math modeling comes into play here because, like the real world, you don't often have all the information you need to come up with a solution. Ten students can come up with 10 different answers to the same question, and each answer can be viable. The reasoning and intuition that the students exercise to find a solution are invaluable.

“It's nice to see what they can achieve. They'll be solving the problems of our future,” Fowler says.

That kind of thinking also is essential in the workforce, so Prof. Peter Turner, Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences at Clarkson, welcomes the creation of this handbook.

“It's especially important now with the national emphasis on STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) and on Common Core standards for mathematics,” he says.

Vice president for education for SIAM, Turner adds, “This handbook will be very valuable not just for teachers who are coaching their students but those trying to apply more relevant math into early grades. Modeling plays such an important role because it can convince students that they'll use mathematics later, and that it relates to things they're interested in now.”

(Update 4-30-2014: You can now download the book and order print copies at http://m3challenge.siam.org/about/mm .)

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/fowler.jpg .]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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