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Mathematics – It Is Rocket Science!

13 January 2016

The 21st century is one of technological change, where rapid developments in science affect all our lives in unpredictable ways. Some scientists are now predicting that there will be a manned mission to Mars in our lifetimes. Certainly 2016 will see this trend of technological advancement accelerate, and as we start a new year, with new challenges, we reflect on our place in the world and the importance of mathematics in it.

  • Mathematics

At the heart of all science and technology is mathematics. Mathematics underpins these disciplines and continues to drive development forward, which is why students and parents understand how important the subject is for their future success and why all students at NAIS Pudong study mathematics up to the end of their high school career. One of our key aims is to inspire students to carry this further, studying mathematics based courses in their ongoing studies after graduating from NAIS Pudong.

Where possible we try to accentuate the links between mathematics and the real world with engaging and exciting practical activities. To emphasise the link between different areas of mathematics at all levels, our students have recently been investigating the properties of projectiles, rocket science! Using technology to aid them, Year 8 have been investigating the trajectory traced by objects under earth’s gravity. They have been able to link this work to their understanding of loci as well as to their knowledge of graphs.

Meanwhile, our IB students have been performing a similar task, able to use technology to accurately fit a quadratic curve to the path of an object. Modelling the world in different ways is one of the areas students might consider investigating as part of their internal assessment, where every IB Mathematics student must complete an exploration into an area of mathematics that interests them.

Sammi Huang explains: “We were given the task to throw a ball and capture it in different positions in the air, and put it on a graph. From this, we wanted to find out whether the arc was a parabola or not. We successfully took this photo with the panorama tool on our phones after several tries.

Then we inserted a grid and drew some axes on it, also plotting three points on the arc. Afterwards, we substituted the points into three quadratic equations, and solved them using our GDCs, by using the matrix function. We then got the numbers for the a, b and c constants, and we used this to get the final quadratic equation of our arc.

We plotted this equation as a graph on our Macbook, with the Grapher tool, and we screenshot it and scaled it to fit the arc on our existing photo. It was a relatively successful parabola, however not perfect. We think the reason for this is because it is difficult to be extremely accurate, especially since we chose our points when we drew the curve in our books.”

Who knows? One day perhaps one of our NAIS students will be on the first manned mission to Mars and using mathematics to solve problems, just like the astronauts in film The Martian.

By Mr Clem Parrish, Head of Mathematics