Nowadays, one of the main problems in education involves the lack of interest of the young generations in STEM subjects. In particular, students do not show any engagement in studying Mathematics since they cannot see any relevance for their life. Indeed, real life problems are complex to analyse and current schools’ curricula use toy-problems totally unrelated to reality. Thanks to my PhD studies in Mathematical Biology, I have been able to provide a series of simple but challenging problems that can be used to show real-life applications of Mathematics and fill in the gap between Mathematics and real world.

In order to link Maths to real word and engage students, I always introduce a new topic showing an application of Mathematics in medicine or cancer research. For example, straight lines can be used to describe how the number of cancer cells evolves over time. Simultaneous equations can then be introduced to find the intersection point between a given cancer and a given drug (both represented as straight lines). This approach can also be adapted to different key stages by introducing the drug as a quadratic (or more complex) function.

Hence, by using simple Maths topics, it is possible to build a mathematical model and describe cancer progression. Then, several treatments can be tested on the model in order to predict the different outcomes and select the best therapy.

Read our interview with Geoff Wakes Professor of Maths Education at the University of Nottingham

I have also used Mathematical Biology when introducing powers. Indeed, every cell divides and such reproduction can be described through powers. Finding the area of 2D or 3D shapes can also be related to real world. In particular, when doctors analyse the x-ray of a cancer tissue, they need to compute the area of the tissue in order to detect any significant changes over time. I have used this example both for working out simple areas and compound areas.

These are just few of the applications I have recently used during my teacher training program to link Maths to real world. However, almost every Maths topics can have an application in Biology and medical research. I found those examples really useful to show pupils that Maths can be used to improve our life in a simple but effective context.

We need to be aware of the changes that are running over the young generations and inspire them using the right tools such as Mathematical Biology.

Annalisa Occhipinti

Annalisa has recently received her PhD in Mathematical and Computational Biology from University of Cambridge and she also obtained an award from the Italian Embassy in London for her excellent research. As part of her commitment to inspire young generations, she also teaches in secondary schools about applications of Maths and Computer Science in cancer research. Annalisa is now training to become a Maths teacher.

If you’d like to become a Maths Scholar then do check out the Maths scholars website and look at all the help and advice available to help make your application successful.