STEM Initiatives and the Wonderful World of Mathematics

Kris Lee of the math department leads students in a tiling and pattern exercise as part of the Investigation Series through OPPTAG.
Kris Lee of the math department leads students in a tiling and pattern exercise as part of the Investigation Series through OPPTAG.

This story was published in the March 8, 2017 issue of Alliance for Iowa State.

The Department of Mathematics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences engages students throughout Iowa with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning experiences.

From investigating how culture affects math in classrooms, to hosting math circles for high school students and implementing active learning methods, the math department at Iowa State is fulfilling the call to increase STEM interest and achievement in order to make Iowa a leader in STEM education and workforce development.

Last month, faculty members and students took part in the Investigation Series Program sponsored by the Office of Admissions Early Outreach (OPPTAG) at Iowa State to expose middle school students to careers in STEM fields, creative arts, and community involvement.

Workshops on 'Fun with Tiling' and 'Mathemagical Card Tricks' were held by students from the Mathematics and Statistics learning community as well as Elgin Johnston, professor in mathematics, and Kristopher Lee, lecturer in mathematics.

"These workshops are designed to present students a problem that sounds simple enough, and almost seems to be devoid of mathematics, but will have surprisingly sophisticated ideas behind the scenes," Lee said. "This gives these students a chance to interact with mathematics in a way that they probably have not experienced before. Furthermore, it reveals to them that there is much more to mathematics than just arithmetic and memorizing formulas, there is true creative thinking involved."

The Department of Mathematics, home to a foundational STEM subject, is just one example of the many departments in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences fulfilling the college's mission to educate future leaders and citizens with a global perspective, conduct research and scholarship of international significance, and share our knowledge to benefit Iowa, the nation, and the world.

"It is especially important that younger students experience mathematics as a fun, rewarding, and worthwhile subject," Lee said. "Far too many of them are quickly turned away from it, convince themselves that mathematics is just not for them, and are then deprived of exploring and gaining important problem solving skills. Our workshops are hopefully combating this, and changing students perceptions on the wonderful world of mathematics."