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University of Wisconsin-Superior

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Superior, WI 54880

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UW-Superior Math Class works to solve soil erosion in Africa

Posted on Dec 15, 2009
Students use math skills to solve a problem half a world away
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Heather Kahler, math specialist for UW-Superior Student Support Services, works with students to solve soil erosion in Africa.

Heather Kahler, math specialist for UW-Superior Student Support Services, caught Channel 10 News's attention. Why? For having her students work on a real-life problem that could help a village in Africa (view story here).

Kahler got the idea in 2007 after she and husband visited their friend Erik, who's working at a small village in the west African nation of Gambia. While there Erik pointed out the serious soil erosion problem around the village. After she returned to her job at UW-Superior, the opportunity arose for Kahler to secure a grant through the university's Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning to use technology to add a global emphasis to her course. That's when she decided she could put her students to work on a real-life math problem half a world away.

Using Skype to hold two-way video phone calls with Erik in Africa, the students learned more about the problem facing the village. Then, with topographic maps of the village, they put their math skills to work, locating contour lines on the map and figuring the slope water follows from various points along the contour lines. With the slope figured, the students could then use the topographic maps to determine the areas around the village that were most prone to erosion. The maps and their reports are then sent to Erik.

Kahler credits the project's success in part to Lisa Larson, coordinator of instructional development at UW-Superior, who enabled her to secure the grant, and Brian Hood, the university's academic technology coordinator who set up the Skype sessions for her class. This is the second semester that Kahler has used the erosion problem in class. Her students are learning about Skype, as well as a practical application of their math skills. Just as important, they learn about Gambia and village life there - another way of meeting UW-Superior's goal of giving students a broader world view as part of their education.

News Contact: Mike Twining | 715-394-80008 | mtwining{atuws}
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