Robotics aids the Push for Higher Math

An interesting piece in the Washington Post titled, “Algebra for All: The Push for Higher Math” mentions robotics as one tool for getting more kids engaged in math in fun and exciting ways:

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To counter the notion that mathematics ability is inscribed in DNA, school officials and corporate executives are waging a public relations campaign for the hearts and minds of the average math student. Their goal is to immerse more middle school students in algebra and toughen high school math requirements so graduates can compete for increasingly technical jobs. Their message: Advanced math is not only for rocket scientists.

“We are trying to find more and more ways to get the youth of America engaged,” said William H. Swanson, chief executive of Raytheon. The Massachusetts-based defense contractor gives out math and science scholarships and is designing a math-oriented attraction at Disney World’s Epcot. It also has brought professional football players to school rallies to talk about math in sports, tackling a stereotype that math is for nerds.

Celebrities also are trying to bring glamour to the quadratic formula. Danica McKellar, who played Winnie Cooper in the television series “The Wonder Years,” proved a mathematical theorem in college and has written two books, including “Math Doesn’t Suck,” to introduce math concepts to teenage girls through examples about cliques and shopping.

Math-themed contests abound. Some offer rewards for students who design robots. Travis Grenier, a student from Rocky Mount, Va., was honored by the National Math and Science Initiative in March for an animated video he produced to rap music called “Crank Dat Calculus.”

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An interesting report by the National Science Foundation called “The Interplay Between Mathematics and Robotics” (PDF) describes the relationship pretty comprehensively, pointing out that robotics utilizes not only algebra, but also dynamical systems theory and statistical learning theory, among other mathematical disciplines.

Those are pretty heady topics for middle and high school robotics students, but there’s plenty of work being done at the secondary school level to incorporate math and robotics.

Carnegie Mellon University, a longtime partner of FIRST, provides a wealth of education resources through their online Robotics Academy., and there are growing efforts to bring FIRST robotics to schools across the country by the likes of NH Governor John Lynch and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America’s vice president for international affairs, Brian Toohey.

You can read the complete story about the push for higher math at the Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/15/AR2009051503434.html

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