Recent national education standards advocate developing students' quantitative reasoning skills through analysis of data. For example, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics states that "instructional programs should enable all students to formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them" (NCTM, 2000). In similar fashion, the Mathematical Association of America's Curriculum Foundations Project suggests that the mathematics curriculum should "Integrate data analysis, statistics and probability into first and second year courses" (MAA Curriculum Foundations Project, 2003).
To implement these recommendations, educators need appropriate curriculum materials. And when it comes to data investigation and analysis, such materials start with good data sets -- those on topics of interest to students, and with the right number of variables, length, and mathematical complexity. We know from first hand experience, while teaching precalculus, statistics, and liberal arts mathematics, that locating these data sets can be a real burden.
All educators have heard or read that they can find data on the Internet. At face value, this might be true. But if you need, for example, a small data set for a lecture on exponential growth, or a longer, multivariable data set just right for a statistics project, then your search time can easily stretch into many hours. Furthermore, when you find that particular data set, you might have to download a file in a special format or spend another hour reentering the numbers into your data-processing software. Similar challenges and time sinks are also encountered when searching for data in printed literature.
Greg Langkamp and Joe Hull are in the Division of Science and Mathematics at Seattle Central Community College . Greg is a mathematician and Joe is a geologist.
In 2000, with the support of the National Science Foundation, we launched the Quantitative Environmental Learning Project (QELP, pronounced "kelp") to develop environmental mathematics materials. One of the products of QELP is a web site featuring many data sets focused on environmental themes, with enough topical breadth to intrigue educators and students with diverse backgrounds. The QELP web site helps address the need for classroom-ready data sets that are easily accessible. In this article, we describe the general features of this web site and provide a few examples of how data sets can be used in the classroom. To go directly to the QELP web site, click here.
Note: This article contains many links to external sites, ours and others. Each such link will open a new browser window so you can easily switch between the text and the page under discussion. You may want to close those extra windows as you finish with them.
Why did we choose the environment as a theme? Environmental issues and problems are both topical -- take a quick glance at any mass medium -- and global; therefore they are relevant to a broad range of students. Environmental science is diverse, touching on all fields in the natural and physical sciences and many fields in the social sciences and humanities. Mathematics pervades all aspects of environmental science, providing a rich milieu for applied mathematics at any academic level.
We've integrated liberal arts mathematics and introductory environmental science in a course titled 6 Billion People and Counting. This course explores environmental issues such as human population, hazardous waste, and water pollution, and it investigates these concerns with elementary college-level mathematics. The marriage of mathematics and environmental issues and problems has been both very successful and very popular.
Published October, 2003
© 2003 by Greg Langkamp and Joe Hull