National Science Foundation Grant Helps Professors Teach Mathematics through Modeling of Real-Life Scenarios

Patrice Tiffany is working on an initiative to use a modeling-first approach to support students and faculty in the learning and teaching of differential equations.

Portrait photo of Patrice TiffanyThe National Science Foundation (NSF) has provided Patrice Tiffany, Ed.D., associate professor of mathematics at Manhattan College, with a $450,000, three-year grant to promote the use of modeling in motivating and teaching differential equations.

The grant originally was awarded to SIMIODE (Systemic Initiative for Modeling Investigations and Opportunities with Differential Equations), a nonprofit organization committed to forming a community of support for a modeling-first approach in the teaching of differential equations. The idea is to teach the subject by modeling a real-life problem, then discover how to use differential equations and technology to solve that problem. In its second year, the grant was transferred to Manhattan College, with Tiffany as a co-principal investigator.

The NSF grant supports intensive weeklong faculty developer workshops and practitioner workshops for three summers. The practitioner workshops are designed for those who are teaching and want to use modeling in their differential equations courses. The developer workshops are for faculty who want to develop modeling material for peer-reviewed, online publication at SIMIODE. SIMIODE has hundreds of scenarios that teachers can use in the classroom, all using open source data.

An offshoot of the grant is the international student competition SCUDEM (SIMIODE Challenge Differential Equations Modeling). A team of students from Manhattan College have taken part in this competition now for three years: at Columbia University, at St. Mary’s in Newburgh, N.Y., and at Manhattan College. The team chooses one of three modeling problems, works on it for a week and then presents their solutions in person at the competition with other area schools. This year’s competition will be a virtual one, with the hope to expand geographically next year.

Tiffany’s co-principal investigators on the grant are: Brian Winkel, professor emeritus at the United States Military Academy, Audrey Malagon, professor of mathematics at Virginia Wesleyan University, Therese Shelton, associate professor of mathematics at Southwestern University and Corban Harwood, associate professor of mathematics at George Fox University.

By Pete McHugh