Making a model of math

Modeling uses equations, graphs and diagrams to explain systems or to make predictions

High school math classes focus traditionally on solving equations. The world of mathematical modeling emphasizes creating equations.

The nonprofit Association of Computational and Mathematical Modeling is developing a free mathematical modeling curriculum that it plans to share with teachers by early 2017. It will show students how to construct equations that solve complex real-world engineering, science and computing problems.

Founded by Cupertino High School students in California, the organization seeks to supplement any mathematical modeling being taught. Modeling is the process of using equations, graphs and diagrams to explain systems or to make predictions, such as the outcome of a physics experiment.

Math models are used in everyday tasks, and can range from calculating population growth to architectural measurements.

Founded two years ago by students of Cupertino High School in Fremont Union High School District in California, the math nonprofit offers free online tutorials, helps organize local modeling chapters, and runs an annual international competition.

“As we just experienced high school, we know how to present mathematical modeling in a way that interests a student audience” says Yankai Zhang, the nonprofit’s founder and director who attends the University of California, Santa Barbara’s College of Creative Studies.

Simplified approach

Zhang says high school students should be introduced to a mathematical modeling curriculum during pre-calculus or more advanced classes, and after they learn more complex equations.

He also suggests a more simplified approach than what is traditionally taught on the college level. Students should learn to incorporate math modeling into open-ended, real-world research problems, such as this one from the nonprofit’s modeling competition:

“We would like to position X number of GPS satellites, making sure that at least 90 percent of the world’s population can get their location using the GPS accurately at least 95 percent of the time. What is X and what is the constellation needed to achieve it?”

Last year’s annual mathematical modeling event attracted 111 teams from 13 different countries.

The nonprofit has chapters across the U.S. and in China and India. Students are encouraged to participate by creating tutorials that share mathematical modeling techniques.

The math nonprofit collaborates with professors from Harvard, Northwestern and Brown universities, as well as instructors at Peking University and London’s Imperial College, who also help design and judge the annual modeling competition.

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