Mathematical Modeling For High School Students

Schoolbooks and calculator lying on a wooden school desk in front of a green chalkboard with Mathematical formulas school

By Sasan Erfan and Yunkai Zhang

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” – John Dewey.

Young people are frequently exposed to ambitious dreams of changing the world. One practical way of expressing said interest is through international science fairs. However, do these science fairs actually provide everyone an equal opportunity to produce meaningful research?
One study by the University of Toronto suggests that students who have laboratory exposure typically dominate international science fairs for young adults, such as Intel, Google and Siemens. For the majority of high school students around the world, this is not the case. Most do not have access to a high level laboratory such as the ones used for the winning contestants, creating a visibly high barrier of entry to research for the average high school student.
However, one field that has been historically underrepresented in our education system can alleviate the needs of aspiring high schoolers who are not fortunate enough to have laboratory access: mathematical modeling. Mathematical modeling is essentially a logical approach to research, relying on statistics and mathematical algorithms to perform analysis. The accessibility of the topic allows ANYONE to produce meaningful results and impact the world.

Modeling The Way

Outside of the education perspective, mathematical modeling is an integral part of our society, as it is the foundation for many economical, medical and engineering research fields. Without mathematical modeling, we would live in a world without traffic engineering, stock market analytics and tremor predictions.
The importance of mathematical modeling and its low barrier of entry to research poses the question: why aren’t high schoolers being introduced to a topic this important?
The Association of Computational and Mathematical Modeling (AoCMM) is a non-profit organization aimed at informing, exciting and educating high school students about mathematical modeling. It was initially founded by students of Cupertino High School (and later expanded to develop several chapters across the United States, China and India) to remove the negative stigma attached to high school mathematics, and open the eyes of many promising students to the excitement of math. Through its widely spread chapters and user friendly website, AoCMM encourages students to pursue math in a society that does not.
In the United States, the high school math curriculum typically only covers four topics: algebra, geometry, statistics and calculus. Society pushes high schoolers to see math as a binary subject with only true or false answers solved through one standardized method. On the flipside, subjects like art and computer science are presented in a much more creative light.
However, in real life applications, math typically connects with research that is expressed through mathematical modeling, and the purpose of math is to explain the phenomena of our physical and digital world with creative problem solving.

Students Helping Students

Math modeling is a cost effective and practical way to conduct research, since less sophisticated equipment is needed. However, a large portion of resources online involve a lot of advanced mathematical topics, which tend to discourage entry level students. Without college level knowledge, high schoolers will not only find themselves struggling with learning the material, but also quickly lose interest in producing possible changes in the world through research.
This simplification of a traditionally difficult subject is exactly why AoCMM exists–to LOWER the barrier of entry for research by giving any student guidance and resources to perform meaningful analysis of real world scenarios. AoCMM offers:

  • Free courses for mathematical modeling that are easily understood with just an algebra background.
  • Tutorials on mathematical algorithms, MATLAB, paper writing and many more research related subjects.
  • Online tutoring at an affordable cost that will assist their research
  • Partnerships with local high schools to motivate ambitious students to conduct their own research.

Additionally, AoCMM is launching its tutoring services and public workshops in the Bay Area of California, and slowly looks to reach out to other regions. Our long term goal is to impact education in rural areas of the world, bridging the existing educational gap.
Students can get involved in AoCMM by participating in its annual math modeling competition, hosting a local chapter or joining the officer team.
For more, see:

Yunkai Zhang is director at the Association of Computational and Mathematical Modeling (AoCMM) and Sasan Erfan is an AoCMM member and recent Cupertino High School graduate. Follow AoCMM on Facebook for updates on events.

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