Practical Uses of Math and Science
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The PUMAS Web site features real-world math and science examples for use in K-12 education. Image Credit: NASA

Did you ever wonder how the wind chill temperature is calculated, or how thick Earth's atmosphere is?

Much of the math and science taught in K-12 classrooms can be used to address real-world questions and problems. Practical Uses of Math and Science, or PUMAS, is an online journal of brief examples illustrating how math and science concepts are used in everyday life.

Aimed at helping pre-college teachers enrich their presentation of math and science, examples are written primarily by scientists and other content experts who have experience using the material in practical situations. The examples come in the form of activities, anecdotes, demonstrations, descriptions of innovative 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 senior research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. He started the journal in 1996 as part of NASA's effort to enhance science literacy among U.S. students. The examples span a broad range of topics connected to national K-12 science and math curriculum guidelines.

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

The PUMAS collection can be searched by subject, author, grade group, and national education standards and benchmarks. Examples at the 6-8 grade level include "What is Wind Chill?" which describes wind chill temperature and how it is calculated; "How Thick is the Atmosphere?" which uses scale drawings to demonstrate the size of Earth's atmosphere compared to the solid planet; and "Algebra Magic," which challenges students to create their own number puzzles.

"Students at the middle school level have achieved an appreciation for facts and are developing their curiosity about the world," Kahn said. "A large fraction of PUMAS examples speak to these interests."

Bringing the expertise of scientists into the classroom enhances the educational experience while complementing 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 to 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): http://pumas.nasa.gov   →

Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies