Archive for the ‘Math’ Category

"Space Math" project at Goddard hits 3 million downloads!

screen shot of space math home page

Astronomer Sten Odenwald has a LOT of problems — math problems.

This month he deserves three cheers for his education project, “Space Math,” one of the most successful educational efforts based at Goddard Space Flight Center. Space Math@NASA provides a steady stream of space- and astronomy-related math problems to middle and high school instructors and students. And in late February, some anonymous student or teacher out there clicked a mouse and received the 3 millionth PDF download from the site.

Screen shot 2011-03-08 at 2.56.13 PM

Space mathematician Sten Odenwald

Odenwald founded the program in 2004, and it has grown steadily in scope and audience. At the time, he had been doing education and public outreach for the IMAGE spacecraft project, centered mostly on scientific findings

“That led me to get a better sense of students’ needs and teacher interests. I had a real sense there was a need for more quantitative content — math-oriented content for the upper grade students and teachers.”

That led to the Space Math website and issuing a weekly math problem every Friday, “which then rapidly spiraled out of control,” Odenwald says.

To keep things fresh and interesting, Odenwald often ties the math problems he creates — sometimes approaching 20 new problems per month — to current events and recent scientific discoveries. This provided a “second inroad” to the schools, via mathematics education, in addition to all the content NASA pipes into science classrooms.

For example, recently the twin STEREO spacecraft reached positions 180 degrees apart with respect to the sun. This allowed the pair to simultaneously observe both solar hemispheres. Odenwald issued this problem, the 404th he has written:

“Problem 404: STEREO Spacecraft Give 360 Degree Solar View Students use two images from the STEREO satellites to explore the geometry of the satellite orbits and their change in time. They also identify from the pair of images which features can be seen from Earth, and which cannot.”

The Space Math site is a gold mine of problems that run students through their mathematical paces on questions of unit conversion and other basic skills. The problems are all issued as PDFs, allowing Odenwald to crank out a steady stream of material without overhead costs for printing.

The site sees 15,000 to 18,000 visitors per month, and continues to grow at 5 percent a month. But after 6 years and more than 404 problems issued, Odenwald’s enthusiasm for Space Math is undiminished.

Odenwald has also written a PDF book of 240 problems for Algebra II students, and has additional problem collections in the works for pre-algebra, Algebra I, calculus, the NASA Astrobiology Institute, remote sensing in Earth science, and a book for the 2012 transit of Venus on June 6 (when Venus will cross in front of the sun).

Whew! Sten Odenwald sure has a lot of problems!

Fortunately for him, Odenwald has the kind of problems that math teachers and their students want. Although he began as an infrared astronomer with a Harvard PhD, Odenwald’s slide into mathematics education is in keeping with a solid track record for public education. He has written many articles for the public about astronomy, and is an active participant in the ongoing Sun-Earth Day team at Goddard. It is a somewhat unconventional career path for an astronomer, but ultimately a happy one, Odenwald explains.

“Here I am, doing it full time, getting paid for it, and having the real time of my life doing things that I know a lot of formal educators are really appreciating. It’s very satisfying.”

OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

</p> <div><a href=”” mce_href=””><img src=”″ mce_src=”″ style=”border: 0″ mce_style=”border: 0″ alt=”W3Counter” /></a></div> <p>