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A Note to the Student

Having taught mathematics for many years, we realize that many students who take beginning level mathematics courses, often not by choice but by requirement, never really understand how it could ever be useful or applied to “real life”. How many times have we heard questions such as, “What’s this stuff good for?” or, “When will I ever use this in my life?” or, “Why do I have to learn this if I’m an English (or fill in the blank) major?”. Many textbooks have atempted to appease the the student by presenting “applications” to illustrate the relevancy of mathematics, These “applications” consisted of “word” or “story” problems such as the ones that begin with “john is twice as old as Sue now . . .” or, “Train A leaves Chicago at 10 a.m. . . .” or even at the calculus level, “The top of a ladder leaning against a wall is sliding down the wall at a constant rate . . .”. These “application” all seemed so fake, so unreal—if one needs to know how old John or Sue is, simply ask them, and who cares what time two trains pass in the night, or by the time you solved the ladder problem, it surely would jhave crashed to the ground.

These phony “applications” most likely provided full confirmation to the skeptical student that mathematics had no role in their own life. It must be some sort of intellectual sport indulged in by an elite few—and yes, there may be some uses for mathematics, but they are far removed from their world.

The Earth Math Modules are designed as an attempt to expose students to uses of mathematics to solve problems or analyze phenomena that exist in most people’s dat-to-day lives. Most of the applications are focused on environmental problems or issues that confront us daily—in our neighborhoods, our cities and towns, and in the countryside and wilderness areas. Issues addressed include population growth, oil and coal consumption, air pollution, water availability, food supply, urban and rural development, and others.

It is our hope that these modules will provide examples for the student of authentic uses of mathematics. And even though the student may never personally use any of the mathematics studied in school, he or she will at least realize that mathematics can play an important in society and for this reason, gain a respect and appreciation for this age-old subject. And who knows, maybe a spark of interest will lead to further study of mathematics and science.

A second goal is to expose the student to information about environmental issues that exist today, particularly population growth and natural resource usage. Hopefully these facts will enable the student to make informed judgments and decisions in order to protect our beautiful planet and its resources for us and future generations.

The mathematical models, or equations, etc., developed in the Earth Math Modules are admittedly over-simplified with restrictive assumptions. This is due to the level of the courses for which they are written. Often, mathematical models use more sophisticated tools in order to more accurately describe phenomena. However, the Earth Math models hopefully provide examples that can be understood and appreciated by all students, and shed some light on the beauty and power of mathematics and science.