Posted: 12th May 2019

Every year Clongowes runs a mathematical modelling programme for Syntax and Poetry in conjunction with the University of Limerick (UL), directed by Mr Stephen O’Hara and any student from these two year groups is free to join the programme. This year those who joined met in October when Professor James Gleeson from UL presented us with three different problems, from which we were to choose one. The difficulties related to self-driving cars, climate change and airport efficiency. After this, we split into groups of four or five people who all chose the same problem.

The groups met with Mr. O’Hara for an hour every Friday evening to brainstorm and discuss ideas, while Mr. O’Hara dispensed valuable advice and wise guidance. In the early stages, we had to decide on how we would approach the problem, after which we would work to discover and collect data from various sources, to create different graphs, perform calculations, and ultimately find a model to answer the questions we were asked. In this process, we met many dead ends and had to restart and change our ideas on numerous occasions, but this was all part of the process of making a successful model.

As the year progressed the majority of groups created a mathematical equation to answer the question and had to put it into practice. We had to cycle figures through our model to see if it worked, while constantly adjusting and improving our equation along the way. By now, Professor Gleeson had visited a couple of times to see how the boys were getting on. We explained our plans and models to him and he gave us constructive feedback on how to improve what we had done. By Easter, four groups thought they had successfully answered the problem and had to create a presentation and a poster in advance of their visit to UL in May.

Answering the problems

In our presentations we talked about how we approached the problem, what steps we took (and why), our final model and our results. We then presented these projects to each other in the week before our trip to UL to make sure we had everything covered, while Mr O’Hara gave us tips on how to improve them. The posters that we made were displayed around the school as well giving all our information and a brief explanation of how we answered the problem.

On May 2nd we headed to Limerick to display our final models and presentations to Professor Gleeson and other professors of mathematics and applied mathematics. The four groups all presented for between ten and fifteen minutes each. Each person in the group spoke and everyone demonstrated their work from the last six months. After the presentation, the audience was able to ask questions about our modelling. The questions posed were about the equations, the approach to the problem and the data collected. We presented the projects to our parents a fortnight later following the same routine and this concluded the Maths Modelling programme for the year.

On behalf of all the boys involved, we would like to thank Mr O’Hara for providing such a great and worthwhile experience and for all the hard work he put in. We would also like to thank Professor Gleeson and the University of Limerick for facilitating the project.

Rory O’Meara (Poetry)

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