Tuesday 26 March 2019

'It's great to watch the students think about the problem and then discuss it among themselves'

Clongowes Wood College teacher Stephen O’Hara watches his fifth year Young Modellers group work out a problem. Photo: Tony Gavin
Clongowes Wood College teacher Stephen O’Hara watches his fifth year Young Modellers group work out a problem. Photo: Tony Gavin
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

A school has seen a huge increase in students applying for STEM-related courses since it started a Transition Year (TY) programme encouraging exploration of how to tackle real-world problems using maths and statistics.

Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare, has led the way on The Young Modellers project and such is its success that it is being opened up to more schools.

It started when Clongowes maths and physics teacher Stephen O'Hara approached a college friend, Prof James Gleeson, Director of the Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry (MACSI), based at the University of Limerick (UL), about finding ways to challenge his students.

Inspired by the Oxford Study Groups idea, which links academic mathematicians with industry, Prof Gleeson came back with a range of problems where mathematical modelling can be used to come up with solutions. Examples include locating the black box of a crashed aeroplane or forecasting the cost of cancer screening programmes.

That was in 2011 and the programme has been a big hit. Typically, about 25-30 students volunteer to participate each year. O'Hara loves watching when they break into groups to tackle a problem and "when they start to think about it, and discuss it among themselves - there is no one right answer and different groups can come up with different solutions".

MACSI's Dr Sinéad Burke is seeking another 15 schools to get involved and wants a representative mix, including girls', mixed-gender and DEIS schools. Participating teachers will attend a three-day residential training workshop during the summer, as well as benefiting from ongoing online and offline support, including from O'Hara. Schools can apply at ul.ie/macsi/teachers-application-young-modellers. Deadline is April 5.

Irish Independent

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