Helping Operations Researchers start young

Now that my son has turned twelve, I am beginning to see among his friends a bifurcation:  some “love” mathematics and some “hate” mathematics.  This is frustrating to me since I know that if the kids see operations research then they will all love it.  What is not to like?  Coloring maps, finding paths, scheduling sports leagues…. who could ask for more?  But if they hate mathematics now, it will be very hard to get them into operations research in the future.

My son has generally had good mathematics teachers, and his curriculum is full of interesting aspects of mathematics.  Sometimes the variety drives me crazy (seriously: shouldn’t a twelve year old know what 9×7 is without hemming and hawing?) but most of the time I like what he is learning.  Rather than rote memorization, the teachers are trying to imbue him with an understanding of concepts such as measurement, algebraic thinking, counting, geometry and so on.  I do think such an approach to mathematics will lead to a greater appreciation for things like operations research when the time comes.  And I wish that time was no later than high school (see HSOR for some older but still very useful modules for that level).

I have a colleague in New Zealand who is trying to provide rich mathematical-oriented resources for a variety of levels.  Nicola Petty (“Dr. Nic”) runs the Statistics Learning Center which has, among many other things, a number of very useful videos on many statistical concepts.  I often send my students there when it appears my own explanations of those concepts is not meshing with them.

catDr. Nic has a Kickstarter going on for a set of mathematics cards aimed at the 5-8 year old set.  Each “Cat” card describes a cat along with her possessions, age, characteristics and so on.  Kids can use these cards to explore issues in counting, graphing, statistics, and many other areas.  I haven’t found a way to naturally embed a shortest path problem in the set, but perhaps the more creative of you can create a game that illustrates the concept of NP-completeness (and, coincidentally, keeping the kids quiet for a very long time).

I would hope that items like this (along with all the other things Dr. Nic offers) would spark interest in “our” type of mathematics.  If you have a kids of the appropriate age (or are a kid of that age who happens to read Operations Research blogs) or know someone or a school that could use this resource, I hope you can support her Kickstarter or her other offerings.  And look for a card named “Trafalgar” (I hope) in the final edition of the Cat cards!

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