Differential Equations Come to Life

By Audrey Malagon, Lead Editor, DUE Point

Since 2003, the SIMIODE (Systemic Initiative for Modeling Investigations and Opportunities in Differential Equations) organization has been promoting a modeling-first approach to teaching undergraduate differential equations. With recent NSF support, they are expanding their offerings of course materials and training workshops. In this blog, I get to interview my co-PI on the project, Dr. Therese Shelton of Southwestern University.

Where did the idea for this project come from?

SIMIODE is a well-established community of faculty and students who are interested in using mathematical modeling to teach differential equations. SIMIODE held multiple successful events including a 2015 MAA Workshop offered through the former Professional Enhancement Program, two successful developer workshops, and multiple events at professional meetings. The time seemed ripe to elevate and expand the efforts, and we knew with NSF funding we could reach even more people!  

NSF grants are competitive - what do you think it is that set your proposal apart and got the project funded?

SIMIODE has a clear mission to encourage and support faculty to use modeling to motivate student learning in differential equations. The mathematical-modeling approach uses best practices in STEM undergraduate teaching: it is hands-on, problem-based, inquiry-driven, and incorporates collaborative learning. We also had a clear plan to use the funding to offer developer and practitioner workshops. Developer Workshops enable faculty from around the country to create teaching materials that focus on real world data and encourage students to transfer knowledge between mathematics and other disciplines. Practitioner Workshops combine in-person and virtual support for faculty seeking to adopt a mathematical-modeling approach in their own classrooms. 

What new innovation does this project bring? 

We support different levels of faculty engagement: some faculty will introduce a few modeling activities into their classes while others will complete a full curricular shift to mathematical models.  With our vetted materials, teachers can jump right in with a new teaching style. Furthermore, we enable creative professionals to develop new, engaging materials to expand the peer-reviewed repository for others to use. 

How will STEM students be better off as a result of your project?

Students across many STEM disciplines take differential equations, so large-scale curriculum improvements in this course can have a transformational impact on STEM graduates nationwide. Our hope is that making this course more engaging and applicable will result in better retention and preparation of STEM students to tackle real-world problems and translate their skills across disciplines. 

What have you learned so far in this project? What’s the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make? 

We have learned that there is a desire to incorporate more realistic applications in mathematics courses, particularly in differential equations. Faculty are interested in using modeling scenarios to motivate the mathematics before introducing the technical mathematics and also willing to try projects and design their own projects. We are making adjustments in how we encourage new developers to submit their materials so others can use them and how we continue to build a strong community where faculty engage and comment on the materials.

Tell us about the people involved in the project

The project is the brainchild of Brian Winkel, founder of SIMIODE, whose enthusiasm is contagious.  Winkel assembled a diverse team from across the country who complement each other as co-PIs: R. Corban Harwood from George Fox University in Newberg, OR;  Audrey Malagon from Virginia Wesleyan University, Virginia Beach, VA; Patrice Tiffany from Manhattan College, Riverdale NY; and myself, Therese Shelton from Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX. In addition, there are numerous others affiliated with the grant implementation and assessment, and there are many who have already benefited from their participation in grant activities.

Tell us about someone impacted by the project. 

Eric Stachura is enthusiastic about the impact of the MINDE 2018 workshop and the SIMIODE materials:

“When I was first exposed to SIMIODE materials, I was slightly reluctant about using them, and for me the Spring 2018 differential equations course was somehow a test for me. Having seen how wonderfully the problems were received, though, and then having attended the MINDE workshop in Summer 2018, I am completely convinced by the value of this community. My goal is to stay involved as much as I can, develop new scenarios for the community and to use in my own courses..”

Learn more about NSF DUE 1724796

Full Project Name: Building Community  Through Systemic Initiative for Modeling Investigations and Opportunities with Differential Equations (SIMIODE)

Abstract: https://nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1724796

Project Website: www.simiode.org

Project Contact: Brian Winkel, PI, director@simiode.org 

For more information on any of these programs, follow the links, and follow these blog posts. This blog is a project of the Mathematical Association of America, produced with financial support of NSF DUE Grant #1626337.

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Audrey Malagon is lead editor of DUE Point and a Batten Associate Professor of Mathematics at Virginia Wesleyan University with research interests in inquiry based and active learning, election security, and Lie algebras. Find her on Twitter @malagonmath.