With the help of application-oriented mathematics, the project School@DecisionTheatreLab aims to bring together high school students and scientists to investigate important social issues—such as sustainable mobility or the spread of infectious diseases. Through mutual exchange a new science communication format is created in which both sides learn from each other: students gain exciting insights into current mathematical research and science benefits from the feedback of the students.
Our world is becoming increasingly complex, digitalisation is advancing, and ever larger amounts of data are produced every day. How can mathematics use this data to address major challenges facing our society or contribute to progress? While the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to mathematical modelling in epidemiology, the relevance of mathematics and mathematical modelling to many other societal issues and problems is less known. Yet mathematical modelling can be found everywhere—from painkiller development to solar cell improvement to evacuation plans or the transformation to sustainable mobility.
The project Schule@DecisionTheatreLab aims to introduce students to the exciting and fascinating research of application-driven mathematics, to decrease inhibitions about mathematics and science, and to awaken a greater understanding of the importance of mathematics for our society and future.
School@DecisionTheatreLab aims to combine two existing science communication formats—”School Lab” and “Decision Theatre”—creating an innovative format with which students can gain insights into mathematical research.
In School Labs (workshops) mathematicians explain the development of mathematical modelling and its application to relevant issues in society.
In the Decision Theatres, students can experiment with mathematical models by discussing topics such as sustainable mobility or the spread of infectious diseases. In several scenarios, they put together different measures, such as driving bans and the expansion of bicycle infrastructures for mobility or different measures for infectious diseases. With the help of interactive visualisation on large screens, the students can reconstruct and discuss the different effects of the taken measures on society and the future. This should promote awareness for and the understanding of the impact of decisions and activate a participation process.
Hence, the students dive into a manifold of real-life mathematics and have an hands-on experience in an open-minded environment. At the same time, the relevance of mathematical modelling for decision-making processes will be highlighted. For the forecasts that arise from mathematical modelling can have a considerable influence on measures by politics and economy that are decided for citizens.
The Decision Theatres are conducted at the Zuse Institute Berlin (ZIB) with students in grades 10-12.
For science, the project offers the opportunity to learn from the students’ perspective. Modelling important societal issues is a rather new research area field, and details in the model are often not determined—as is with the modelling of complex physical systems. New ideas from everyday life and feedback on which aspects are considered more or less important can play a big role in improving models. Therefore, the project aims to facilitate science communication in two directions: on the one hand, bringing mathematics closer to students; on the other hand, developing a method that makes it possible to include practical perspectives in the mathematical models.
Regarding the topic “Pandemic outbreaks under the microscope: A Decision Theatre on the spread of infection,” school classes currently have the opportunity to visit the ZUSE Institute Berlin. Their visit is divided into three parts.
In the Mathematics Workshop, students learn how to mathematically model epidemics and calculate probabilities of infection.
Our Computer Science Workshop welcomes participants with no programming experience. Within the context of an agent-based simulation illustrating the spread of infections, students use a block-based programming language.
The centerpiece of the project is the Decision Theatre. Through interactive experimentation with a mathematical model, students create possible scenarios of epidemic outbreaks and simulate social and political decision-making processes by devising sets of measures based on their insights.
The following video provides some impressions (in German) from students of an 11th-grade class who participated in the “Decision Theatre Day.”
School@DecisionTheatreLab is based on the mathematical modelling provided by research projects of the Cluster of Excellence MATH+. MATH+ is an active and close collaboration of researcher from the three major Berlin universities (Freie Universität, Humboldt-Universität, and Technische Universität) and the two mathematical research institutes WIAS (Weierstrass Institute for Applied Analysis and Stochastics) and ZIB (Zuse Institute Berlin). With a focus on advancing application-driven mathematics in cooperation with other scientific disciplines, MATH+ researchers advance important questions of society and in a variety of fields of application, true to the motto: “Changing the world through mathematics!”
Decision Theatres were set up for the following topics within the MATH+ research fields:
As part of the program Experimental Science Communication Laboratories, School@DTL is funded by the Berlin University Alliance (BUA) for three years until the end of June 2024.
Both communication formats are accompanied by educational experts and social scientists (with a focus on diversity and gender equality). Through their perspective, the formats will be comparatively examined and continuously improved.
In order to sustainably establish this science communication format in schools, student teachers of mathematics are involved and are to gain inspiration for their future teaching activities through their participation in the project.
Researchers from the three major Berlin universities (Freie Universität, Humboldt-Universität, and Technische Universität) have developed the concept School@DecisionTheatreLab. The team is divided into the following areas of responsibility:
Elevating our team with Master’s and PhD Student Expertise:
Former team members:
At the moment we are in the process of preparing the Decision Theater Lab material in such a way that Schools can use the digital format and material themselves.