Over half the students attending the College of Staten Island in recent years have required some remediation in mathematics. Many of these students lack motivation and have become frustrated over repeated failures to learn and apply basic mathematical concepts. One way to address the problems of such developmental mathematical students is through a course that relates mathematics to global issues. I have been giving such a course, "Mathematics and the Environment", at the College of Staten Island since 1975. It is a 3 credit course that meets the degree requirements of liberal arts students, but it can easily be adapted to other situations. The course uses basic mathematical concepts ( calculations, percents, ratios, graphs, bar charts, circle diagrams, histograms, sequences, averages, and elementary probability) and exercises in considering such global problems as pollution, hunger, resource scarcities, rapid population growth, and nutrition. Current data for mathematical problems can be found in popular newspapers and magazines and such reference sources as the Statistical Abstract of the United States and the United Nations` Statistical Yearbook of Economic and Social Affairs. The annual World Population Data Sheet of the Population Reference Bureau provides current data on present and projected populations, birth and death rates, doubling times, infant mortality rates, per capita GNP`s, and other population-related information, that can serve as the basis of a wide variety of mathematics-related problems. The Population Reference Bureau also provides a data sheet of U. S. population and sources of data related to population.
Here is a small sampling of problems that can be used:
1.An acre (43, 793 square feet) of tropical rain forest, if cut down and converted to pasture, can produce about 50 pounds of cattle per year or 400 pounds during the 8-year lifetime of a typical pasture. Because about half the animals is composed of inedible parts, the total beef production is 200 pounds. a. How many 4 ounce (quarter-pound) hamburgers can be obtained during the lifetime of the pasture? b. On the average, how many square feet of tropical rain forest are necessary to produce a quarter-pound hamburger?
2. Assume that a solar heating system is installed in a home for $9,000 and that it reduces the annual heating bill of $1,500 by 60%. In how many years will the savings in heating bills equal the cost of the solar heating system?
3. A potato blintz has 3 grams of protein, 14 grams of carbohydrates, and 4 grams of fat. Find the percent of total calories obtained from fat. Note that each gram of protein and carbohydrates contains 4 calories and each gram of fat contains 9 calories.
Using problems similar to these, teachers can motivate students with significant and interesting information related to current issues. The results of mathematical calculations can lead to consideration of many important questions: Are we running out of resources? What are the social and economic costs of the arms race? How serious is recent rapid population growth? What are the environmental consequences of wastefulness in the United States and other wealthy countries? This can help show students the importance of learning and applying mathematics. A discussion of sources for further mathematical problems follows:
1. The Population Reference Bureau, Inc., (1875 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 520, Washington, D. C. 20009) is an excellent source for information related to population. We have already referred to their annual World Population Data Sheet which gives a wealth of information on the world's regions and countries. They also have a "Population Handbook" which has a comprehensive summary of demographic techniques with many sample problems related to the World Population data sheets. Other valuable material includes population sheets, teaching modules, and bulletins. Two bulletins with especially useful information (statistics, graphs and charts) on population are "Man's Population Predicament," Vol. 27, No. 2, 1971, and "Our Population Predicament: A New Look," Vol. 34, No. 5, Dec., 1979. Special data sheets and other background material with many graphs, charts, and data were produced related to the International Year of the Child, in 1979, and International Women's Year, in 1980.
2. Mathematics and Global Survival, by Richard H. Schwartz (Ginn Press, 160 Gould Street, Needham Heights, MA 02194- 2310; 1-800-428-GINN), 4th edition, 1998. A text book with a wide variety of mathematics problems related to pollution, hunger, resource scarcity, energy, the arms race, nutrition and health, and rapid population growth.
Richard H. Schwartz Professor Emeritus, Mathematics College of Staten Island 2800 Victory Boulevard Staten Island, NY 10314 USA (718) 982-3621 Email address: Schwartz@postbox.csi.cuny.edu Fax: (718) 982-3631
Author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, and Mathematics and Global Survival. Patron of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society.
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