Online math program helps students connect with science
NASA astronomer Sten Odenwald wants to see educators use math more in the classroom when teaching science and other subjects.
June 6, 2011 ·
An astronomer with NASA is using his passion for math to create an online educational program for teachers. Space Math is helping students understand the connections with math in their every day lives.
Space Math is going on its eighth year and has had nearly 4-million math problems downloaded from its site. Sten Odenwald, a NASA astronomer at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland said math is often overlooked in the classroom.
“Through most grade school science courses except perhaps physics, you never get very much mathematics as part of your astronomy or earth science education. You will get the occasional requirement to read a graph or read a table but actual numeracy skills and certainly working with formulee are generally pretty heavily suppressed at least in the text books that I see and so they see science as very divorced from math and vice versa,” said Odenwald.
Odenwald’s love for astronomy and math inspired him to help create an online education program called Space Math for teachers and students.
“I mainly work with NASA press releases that come out and I reverse engineer them to show the mathematics that is going on behind the discovery. Often it is extremely simple mathematics. Rarely do you have to use calculus or advanced algebra,” he said.
The program is designed primarily for middle and high school students. The site features more than 420 math problems, ranging in topics from black holes to NASA space missions.
Odenwald said the site also offers other learning tools like games and links to the space agency’s missions and programs.
“Other problems involve solar storms or the discovery of the dust rings on Saturn. For instance with the Japan tsunami, I showed the time of the Earth quake compared to the time of the arrival of the tsunami in San Francisco and that is a distance divided by a time and you get 550 miles an hour, so that is a number used in the press release and I provided a sort of behind the scenes math that provided where that number comes from.”
Odenwald also gets requests from educators to create math problems on specific classroom topics.
Space Math is a free resource for educators and students. Odenwald said he is working with teachers in focus groups to create more math problems for third through sixth grades.
To learn more about Space Math click here.