Math Options Program Keeps Career Options in the Equation

Kiya Riverman, a Penn State graduate student and volunteer instructor for Math Options, introduces seventh grade girls to glacial drift using models.  (Provided photo)

Kiya Riverman, a Penn State graduate student and volunteer instructor for Math Options, introduces seventh grade girls to glacial drift using models. (Provided photo)

DUBOIS – Many young students of mathematics have asked the question, “When am I ever going to use this?”  A program held each spring at Penn State DuBois provides answers to that question for girls from around the region.

Nearly 200 seventh grade girls from 14 schools were introduced to careers and every day activities that require skills in mathematics and science during the Math Options Program at Penn State DuBois on Tuesday.

The program is designed teach young girls how skills in these areas apply to a variety of real-world situations and rewarding careers.  The hope is that they stay interested in mathematics by learning about the opportunities and success that they can realize through its use.  The program is aimed at the specific seventh grade female demographic because statistics show that they are at the greatest risk for losing interest in these essential subjects.

“At this age, girls’ interest in math really starts to decline,” said Penn State DuBois Assistant Professor of Education Pamela Hufnagel, who serves as an organizer for Math Options. “By engaging them with these activities and helping to maintain an interest in math, it leaves the door open for future studies and careers. Efforts like these are effective in keeping girls in the math pipeline.”

The activities the girls participate in through Math Options are focused on areas including health, engineering, production, forensics, and more.  Volunteer instructors guide the students through the activities with the goal of providing a fun, hands-on learning experience where the girls can apply math skills to solve problems or gather information.

“There is huge value in this,” said Kiya Riverman, a Penn State graduate student in geosciences who volunteered to teach a Math Options course on the movement of glaciers and rising sea levels.  She said going beyond classroom lessons and showing students how math can be applied makes a big difference in the students’ interest in the subject. “It’s a lot easier to look at a glacier and get excited because you can get a physical sense of how the numbers are applied.”

Riverman used a hands-on activity in her course that simulated glacial drift.  She used model chutes, or the path a glacier would take in moving into the sea, lined with different types of material to simulate the varying surfaces glaciers travel on.  The speed at which the glaciers travel varies depending on the surface, and Riverman’s exercise demonstrated that.  It also gave students the chance to determine what the differences in speed are between several types of surfaces.

“We’re talking about how ice on land flows to the ocean and contributes to sea level rise.  We’re looking at model glaciers and chutes to demonstrate the speed of glaciers and how it is affected by what is under them.  For example, glaciers with rocks under them move slower than those with sediment under them,” Riverman said.

School districts and parochial schools who participated in this year’s Math Options Program include Brockway, Clarion Limestone, Curwensville, DuBois, DuBois Area Catholic, Harmony, Immaculate Conception School, Johnsonburg, Kane, Moshannon Valley, Philipsburg-Osceola, Punxsutawney, Saint Marys, and Saint Marys Catholic.

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