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Mathematical and Computational Methods for Planning a Sustainable Future (PS-Future)

PS-Future modules are designed to provide 4-6 days of high school classroom activities that engage students in using mathematical and computational methods to explore topics in sustainability. 

The Modules:

  • Are student-centered, activity-driven, and problem-based to appeal to today‚Äôs students who favor active learning paradigms

  • Incorporate the use of computer applications to encourage hands-on experimentation

  • Are self-contained text and problem material covering roughly one week of class meetings of 40-50 minutes each

  • Consist of a Student Module and a Teacher Guide

  • Provide examples of related jobs and career opportunities

  • Allow flexible adaptation for use in a variety of courses (not just math or environmental science) at a variety of grade levels (9-12)

Modules in Development and Testing

Passive Solar Building Design engages students in designing energy-efficient buildings using right-triangle trigonometry. Students learn about the seasonal change in the angle of elevation of the sun and how it can be used to let in or keep out the sun for energy efficiency. They also experiment with different materials to observe their heat absorption properties.

Weather Generators introduces students to “weather generators” for simulating weather data, such as future precipitation in various locations. Students learn about the concept of statistical persistence in weather and the critical link between weather, the water cycle, and global sustainability.

Alien Invaders looks at the ecological impact of both plant and animal invasive species. Students learn about how an invasive population grows and spreads across a geographic landscape, and they do quantitative assessments and simulations using different rules for population growth and spatial spread. Students model strategies for controlling the spread of an invasive species and discuss why some succeed while others do not.

Going Batty examines the many important roles that bats play in the ecosystem and how they are now threatened by White Nose Syndrome (WNS). The module introduces the SIR (Susceptible, Infected, Removed) model to study WNS. Students learn about the effect of diminished bat populations on ecosystems and humans, and they use spreadsheet-based simulations to model disease progression and explore the effect of proposed strategies for combatting the disease.

Water Games uses concepts drawn from mathematical game theory to model competition for water and other scarce resources and to examine potential strategies available to parties in conflict. Students use game theory to predict outcomes based on play of a game and to change outcomes by changing associated payoffs.

Water and the Hydrologic Cycle explores the interconnectedness of ground water and surface water. Students explore what it really means to get one inch of rain and how it differs between rural and urban areas. Students investigate rates of flow, runoff from rain on permeable and impermeable surfaces, and the use of greenspace, catchment areas, or other means of storm water management.

Habitat Fragmentation considers preserving habitat for threatened species as an issue in land use and conservation. It involves students in computing the size of protected areas, both in terms of total area and boundary length, and it explores relationships between the size of a protected area and its biodiversity. The students are exposed to ideas in land use policy through a case study on protection of the grizzly bear.

Urban Sustainability introduces basic concepts in the use of geographic information systems (GIS) to explore patterns of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions both across and within US cities, as well as changes over time. Students also map heat in both urban and rural areas and consider links with land use and GHG emissions.

Ecosystem Services immerses students in making decisions on forest resource management. The module introduces students to sampling methods to assess forest resources and potential timber values, while also considering the value of ecosystem services like erosion prevention, carbon sequestration, and habitat provision. It illustrates that sustainable management of a natural ecosystem requires a full accounting of all effects of an action--both direct and indirect--over time.

Not in My Backyard explores how to consider social and environmental justice when making decisions like where to put a toxic waste dump. Often such facilities are located in economically depressed areas, based on priorities that further disadvantage those who are already disadvantaged.

Published Modules

Published modules are modules that we consider to be “classroom ready” and in their final form (though they may be revised periodically through new editions). Published modules have gone through extensive field testing in high school classrooms and have been honed and edited in response to that testing.

The PS-Future project does not yet have any published modules, but all of them are in the final stages of the publication process, and they are available on request for classroom use. If you would like to review one of the modules for use in your classroom please contact us. Published modules will be available for free download by early 2020.