Today is Pi Day, as in March 14th or 3.14 (if you are using the US date format). As we are having fun with numbers, we asked Garry Packer, STEM Ambassador and Lead Service Delivery Manager for National Highways, about making maths fun.
As a STEM Ambassador I was giving talks to Y10 – Y13 students about how we use maths to understand traffic congestion and how slowing cars down made their journeys quicker, counter-intuitive, I know! That’s the magic of quadratic equations, two very different states can have the same value. I tended to start by asking the class who likes maths? Being a control systems engineer I have a bit of a passion for applied maths and a colleague describes control engineering as the confluence of maths and engineering. Most of the time I got a very lukewarm response to the question. I have a theory that (school) maths, unlike other school subjects, focusses too much on method and not enough on being creative.
I’m now on a bit of a mission to share my ideas with other Ambassadors and hopefully get more fun maths workshops going. I also want to try doing them in a maths club format with both children and their parents; I think that will have to wait until Covid restrictions are completely lifted.
So back to the traffic congestion problem. Have you ever wondered why when driving along a perfectly clear (but busy) road, why suddenly everyone comes to a stop? After a short time, the traffic starts moving again, this may repeat several times and there is no obvious cause (like broken down vehicle or roadworks). Well to find out why and how quadratic equations help us understand the problem and offer solutions you’ll have to sign your class up to my STEM Ambassador activity on ‘Hidden Maths of Smart Motorways’ talk.