Science Cafe

Why math matters in rural areas


Cortney Willis, cw238906@ohio.edu

Dr. Robert KleinThe topic of the Science Café on Feb. 6 was math. Specifically, Ohio University professor of mathematics Robert Klein, Ph.D., examined rural education in regards to mathematics. An enthusiastic and charismatic speaker, Klein first asked the audience to envision “rural.” He asked, “What does rural look like?” Some answered “corn.” Others responded “mountains,” and “Meiggs County.”

Klein went on to give some interesting statistics on rural areas. According to the 2010 census, 16 percent of the U.S. population is rural, and there are 9.6 million rural students in the U.S. In terms of raw numbers, Ohio ranks fourth in the number of rural students.

Klein explained that the lack of opportunities for higher education in mathematics is problematic for those students in rural areas who prove exceptional at math. Another problem with rural areas is that there are not many jobs to which science in mathematics is applicable. As a result, those who are good at math and science typically leave the rural areas in which they grew up and do not return.

Klein made sure to mention that, while rural is everywhere, place matters in all rural areas. He also noted that while math was everywhere, too, many rural areas don’t teach math above a sixth-grade level.

In an attempt to help compensate for the lack of education in mathematics, Klein and others are working on math-teacher circles. There are currently only 44 active in the U.S. Of those 44, only two are in Ohio. In these circles, students and teachers get together to solve mathematical problems. Klein said that the purpose of these circles is to help restore a love of mathematics in teachers and students alike.

Near the end of his presentation, Klein had the Science Café audience play a game of “Science Bingo.” Klein was able to guess every number a participant lied about, joking, “I do have ESPN.”

To conclude, Klein left the audience with a promising axiom: “If you inspire someone to do mathematics in any area, it’s going to grow from seeds planted within math teachers.”

For more information on Klein’s work in rural areas, go to www.ruraledu.org. The next Science Café will take place on Feb. 20. Dr. Mario Revolvo will speak on the subject of biomedical science.

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