New Classroom

Teenagers from two schools visited the Centre for Mathematical Sciences this week to show how they'd unearthed valuable data on disease dynamics during a nine-month research initiative organised by the Millennium Mathematics Project in partnership with the Disease Dynamics Research Group, and funded by the Wellcome Trust.

This project would have been a huge success in outreach purposes alone - but the research has really worked and the results have been fantastic so it's a double success.

Dr Julia Gog

The project aimed to shed new light on disease dynamics - in particular, the pattern of contacts between primary school children who often drive transmission when a disease epidemic happens.

The idea was to go beyond just carrying out an educational exercise, and to actually involve secondary school pupils in carrying out research which would be of genuine value. It's hoped the project will be a pilot for similar research initiatives in the future.

Pupils from West Monmouth comprehensive school in Wales and Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury took part in a series of video conferences with University of Cambridge mathematicians from the Disease Dynamics Research Group over the nine month period, facilitated by the Millennium Mathematics Project's Motivate programme which aims to enrich school students' understanding of maths beyond normal curricular confines.

The 13 to 15 year olds devised their own research questionnaires for children at three primary schools in their area to complete giving details of the number of contacts they had with other children on certain days.

The two schools then collated their findings into presentations which they travelled to CMS this week to give to an audience of interested researchers and academics from the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics and other departments interested in epedemiology.

Professor John Barrow, Director of the Millennium Maths Project, introduced the event and told pupils that maths at Cambridge isn't just about being good at figures.

He said the schools project had given pupils a real taste of how maths is important in understanding how disease might spread and how and when it might be appropriate to intervene to stop the spread.

Dr Julia Gog, Head of the Disease Dynamics Research Group, was very impressed by the standards of the research done by the schools.

She said: "This project would have been a huge success in outreach purposes alone - but the research has really worked and the results have been fantastic so it's a double success."

Naomi Collins - a pupil who led the presentation from West Monmouth School - agreed. She said being involved in the project had changed the way she thought about maths: "I know now its not just something you have to learn for doing the shopping, its important in all sorts of things I'd never really thought of before. I've never been very good at maths really, probably because I've never really enjoyed it, but this project has changed that."

The Assistant Headteacher of Simon Langton Grammar, Maureen Poole, also praised the way the initiative helped motivate pupils not only in their maths studies but in their personal development and confidence.

The Millennium Mathematics Project intends to use some of the material from the project to provide an online teaching resource to be published on the Motivate website.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page.