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 climate change or sustainable mobility. Through mutual exchange, we plan to create a new science communication format 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.
To this end, we will develop a new interactive format with which students can gain insights into mathematical research. 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 students learn from scientists how mathematical modelling is established and how these models can be used to explore the evolution of societal issues—such as climate change, urban mobility or COVID-19 measures. Students can experiment with mathematical models and are encouraged to shape their own perpectives for 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.
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.
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.
The project School@DecisionTheatreLab aims to combine two existing science communication formats—”School Lab” and “Decision Theatre”—creating an innovative format. School Labs are a mixture of workshops and lectures. Here, 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 COVID-19. In several scenarios, they put together different measures, such as driving bans and the expansion of bicycle infrastructures for mobility or different lockdown measures for COVID-19. 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.
The Decision Theatres are conducted with students in grades 10-12 at the Zuse Institute Berlin (ZIB).
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!”
We plan to develop Decision Theatres about three MATH+ research areas. Possible topics are:
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.
Six researchers from the three major Berlin universities (Freie Universität, Humboldt-Universität, and Technische Universität) have developed the concept and will implement it. The team is divided into the following areas of responsibility:
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.