Making Maths Count
Jennie Hargreaves from Lockerbie Academy tells us about a fantastic project in which maths and physics combine to improve road safety.
As a Physics Teacher I, and the students I teach in Lockerbie Academy, are using maths all the time. I like to think of Physics as the application of maths.
Over the last few years I’ve been working with Police Scotland Road Traffic Police, particularly Inspector Neil Hewitson on a Road Safety Project in Physics. I’ve taken the usual topic for Physics like speed, distance, displacement, forces and acceleration and made this into a Road Safety Topic for students from S2 to S6. We cover different types of speed and how they relate to causes of car incidents. The course culminates in a road crash scenario.
It’s been great working with the Road Crash Investigator team, they’ve been so willing to share their knowledge to teachers and students all in the hope of reducing traffic fatalities in our Region. I’ll let Inspector Hewitson give you his background in his own words.
“I was a Roads’ Policing Inspector in Police Scotland, based in Dumfries and Galloway. I have been involved in Roads Policing for 21 of my 30 years’ service. As a Constable in the Roads Policing Department I gained a City and Guilds Qualification in Road Crash Investigation through Aberdeen University. Crash Investigation is concerned with the way vehicles behave before, during and after a crash. The role of a crash investigator is to reconstruct the crash as much as they can from the marks and other physical evidence left at the scene. In order to carry out an effective reconstruction the crash investigator must have an in depth knowledge of a number of equations of motion together with the laws of physics and how these can be used to calculate vehicle speeds and behaviour. Both I and my team have carried out numerous investigations into crashes and I feel the science which we use on a regular basis could be transferred across to students to educate them how mathematics and physics can be used on a practical basis. In doing so they will have a greater understanding of how the work they are carrying out in class is very worthwhile in terms of later occupational use. At the same time it is important to get a road safety message across to the students who are being taught.”
One of the reasons Inspector Hewitson gave for wanting to be involved with the project was when he was studying the equations of motion at school he couldn’t think of any relevant use for these. I am often asked the same questions. Road Crash Investigators (RCIs) use them in the incidents they are involved in solving.
Our scenario was a simulated crash where students use maths skills, team work, questioning, the scientific process, their general knowledge and problem solving skills as if they were RCIs. Students are shown an adapted real crash and have to work out by measuring, observing, and calculating exactly what occurred during the incident and compare their answer with what really happened in the original incident. We have completed this scenario with students from S2 to S6.
The satisfaction the students get when they work out the answer and see the result displayed on their calculator is delightful to observe, especially as there is a lot of problem solving to reach the answer.
One of the lessons I hope the students learn during the process is not to give up. The pleasure students get from finally arriving at the answer is amazing. I describe Physics and Maths as like attempting to climb Mount Everest, compared to some subjects that are like a walk in the park, very pleasant but not the fulfilment and confidence that you’d achieve by doing something as amazing as scaling a mountain.
Our efforts were recognised recently at the Excellence in Road Safety Awards 2016, where we won one of the best school prizes in addition to the overall Special Award for Road Safety – The Jacques Barrot Prize
Jennie Hargreaves will be appearing with Gill Arbuthnott and Ruth Jarman at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday 22 August to discuss the science of writing for young readers.