Math Modeling
Math Modeling
Math Modeling
Math Modeling
Math Modeling
New Course Finds the Intersection Between Math and Real Life
Brittany Rockenfeller

How do populations grow? How do viruses spread? How do you interpret what an infographic is really trying to say?

These are all questions that can be answered in Blair’s new course Mathematical Modeling & Applications.

Open to seniors, the course is designed to promote reasoning, problem-solving and modeling using basic mathematics skills, such as algebra. Replacing College Algebra, students learn critical thinking skills to formulate a real-life problem, construct an appropriate mathematical model, calculate solutions and validate the results.

Math Department chair Julia Rowny, who teaches the course, was inspired to create it with Dean of Academics Nathan Molteni after noticing an increased need for a new style of learning mathematics among students who might not be interested in advanced math courses, such as Calculus.

“When am I ever going to use this?” is a question often heard in classrooms around the world, and Ms. Rowny wanted to ensure that her course content would be relevant and useful to students’ lives.

“We knew some students needed a different way of learning math, because they've been stuck in this algebra-based trap where it’s very abstract and symbolic,” she noted. “This new way of looking at things has us teaching material in a way that’s useful to them, but not the norm of learning in regular math classes. That’s the core of it.”

The class, comprising 12 students, kicked off the year with probability, learning about decision making on topics such as taking certain bets, or picking one option over another and what those consequences would be. Students then moved into exploring statistics, including how to interpret them for accuracy.

“When someone refers to the average age of something, what does that really mean,” Ms. Rowny explained. “Is it accurate? Is it fabricated? How can you learn when you’re being lied to with numbers? All of that is explored in this class.”

Students ended the fall 2021 semester with their first signature assessment, which saw them asking statistical questions, researching data online from reputable sources and analyzing their hypotheses.

Signature assessment examples included which basketball player is the “best” basketball player, which country is the “best” in the Olympics on average, and even birth statistics, including looking at survival rates of different kinds of deliveries.

“Many students’ projects switch directions because of how easy or hard the data is to find, which is awesome,” Ms. Rowny said. “I’m seeing students have to change their question or data source due to this, and that’s exactly what we experience living life every day.”

During the spring semester, students will participate in a financial simulator, where Ms. Rowny will roll a dice to determine their financial status as they plan for college and postgraduate life. Students will need to figure out what their needs might be and what careers work with their major at the college they can attend, all of which is based on the financial status they’re assigned.

This includes determining income potential after graduating and locating an apartment based on student loans and geographic limitations. Following that unit, the course will expand to topics such as budgeting, taxes, health insurance, interest rates and credit scores.

The course is being well received, as students are thriving in the teamwork-based learning environment. Ms. Rowny noted that the class will often jump into solving a problem and ask questions along the way, rather than listening to her lecture at the whiteboard. Students were also surprised to learn that they are allowed to use any quantitative tool that works best for them, including calculators, Google Sheets and even their phones.

By offering a real-world view of mathematics, the course is key to the growth of students’ critical thinking skills and a better understanding of how important math truly is. Mathematical Modeling & Applications provides a strong tactical foundation that prepares students for key issues they will face after their time at Blair Academy is complete.


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