Scientists in Schools

House prices, algal growth and number theory

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  • Marie Jackson, Darling Range Sports College, Forrestfield, Western Australia
  • Dr Nazim Khan, University of Western Australia

Dr Nazim Khan and Marie Jackson have been meeting on a regular basis at both the school and UWA since their partnership began in July 2010. They have been engaging Year 10/11 students in projects demonstrating the practical application of mathematics in everyday life.

Nazim got to know the students by discussing topics such as the importance of mathematics and statistics in science, technology, environment and everyday life. He wanted to show that mathematics is about ideas and not calculations, and illustrate ideas of mathematics using simple examples.

Students observing the modelling the effects of tide on algae in the Swan River

He then began a weekly statistics project for Year 10 comparing house prices in different suburbs in Perth. Each team was assigned a different suburb, used an equation in Excel to randomly select houses in that suburb, then collected the price data from real estate websites. Teams produced various statistics from this data and were encouraged to think about how to compare the prices across suburbs and discovered why it’s better to use the median price not the mean. After Nazim had worked with the students at the school for several weeks, the whole class visited UWA to use their excellent facilities and receive support from six other maths lecturers at the same time. 

For Marie this partnership has clearly been beneficial for her students. She said “It’s a fantastic and enriching experience for students to work with mathematicians who are working in the real world. I’ve got some students who now want to be statisticians. The students are so privileged to have these facilities made available to them because of the MiS program.” 

Dr Nazim Khan assisting students

Throughout the remainder of the year, they have continued to work together in a range of projects including one looking at modelling the effects of tide on algae in the Swan River and another involving an environmental engineering game designed to reflect the reality of international trading, teamwork and problem solving. The Year 11’s are currently looking at number theory and ideas of proof in mathematics.

“I have enjoyed the opportunity to expose the students to the beauty, breadth and applications of mathematics and statistics. It is very rewarding to share the fascination I have with mathematics, and to make the link with science,” said Nazim.