Friday, November 1, 2013

Of Math and Poopiness

horses n carsSo, I was on a panel yesterday at an all-day conference on "General Education" at Penn State. The panel members were largely faculty who regularly teach GenEd or "breadth" courses; I was included, I think, because though I have not yet taught such a course I am talking a lot about the MATH 033 (Math for Sustainability) project which will finally get going next year (yay!).

So I used my allotted to make a pitch that sustainability should be taught as a GenEd theme, and that sustainability is a quantitative matter, involving questions like "How much?" and "How long?"  As an illustration, I mentioned a question that I have heard Richard Alley ask: suppose that an automobiles excretions were solid and visible, like those of a horse - then which would be poopier, per mile of travel? Would our roads soon be covered with car poop, as they would certainly soon be covered by horse poop, supposing that the same number of people traveled by horse as currently travel by car?

It's a good question for getting a quantitative appreciation of the scale of carbon dioxide emissions; and I hope it helped us relax amid discussion of the important discussions of the purpose of education!

Afterwards, someone I had not met came up to me and said, "I really like the horse poop illustration. I could help you teach that part of your course."  And he gave me his business card.

I said "Great" - I think partnership in teaching will really improve this course.  But I wondered what this guy's academic field might be that specially qualified him to help me with this unit.  I took a look at his business card.

Professor of Equine Nutrition

I guess that would do it!

Photo by Flickr user safoocat, licensed under Creative Commons

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