Educator Features

Practical Uses of Math and Science (PUMAS)
08.21.03
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Real-world math and science examples for use in K-12 education
Ever wonder how far a volcanic cloud can travel, or how much melting snow it takes to cause flooding?

Much of the math and science learned at the pre-college level can be used to address real-world questions and problems. Practical Uses of Math and Science (PUMAS) is an online journal of brief examples illustrating how math and science concepts are used in everyday life.

Intended to help teachers enrich their presentation of math and science in the classroom, examples are written primarily by scientists and come in the form of activities, anecdotes, demonstrations, descriptions of neat ideas, formal exercises, and puzzles. Each submission is reviewed by at least one scientist with a relevant background and at least one teacher at an appropriate grade level.

Ralph Kahn, editor and founder of PUMAS, is a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He started the journal in 1996 as part of NASA's effort to improve science literacy among the nation's students. The examples span a variety of topics and are meant to expand on and bring to life the math and science material typically found in textbooks.

"PUMAS gives scientists a way to contribute to pre-college classrooms what they know best - practical uses," Kahn said.

The PUMAS collection can be searched by subject, grade level, national education standards and benchmarks, and various other fields. Examples intended for teachers of grades 9-12 include "Volcanic Clouds and the Atmosphere," which explains how volcanic clouds are tracked and the problems they can cause far away from the volcano itself, and "Snowmelt and Floods," which describes how the potential of flooding due to snowmelt is calculated. "By high school, students have enough technical background to work through some fairly sophisticated problems," Kahn said.

Bringing the expertise of scientists into the classroom enhances the educational experience while complimenting the role of the teacher, according to Kahn. In fact, the journal is purposely geared toward teachers rather than directly at students. "Asking contributors to write for other adults - teachers - seemed to make the most sense, leaving the job of communicating with students to teachers, who are generally far better equipped for the task," Kahn said.

The PUMAS Web site also serves as a communication forum for math and science educators. Teachers and other users may post comments on specific examples as a way to share ideas for integrating the material into lesson plans, as well as submit requests for new examples in particular subject areas.

PUMAS is always looking for new contributions and reviewers. For more information, and to access the examples, visit the Web site.

Practical Uses of Math and Science (PUMAS)
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