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Nicos Starreveld, teacher at Mathematics at the FNWI received an IIS Grant to develop and experiment with a new education project for Mathematics. The aim of the so called ‘Couples- project’ was to stimulate interdisciplinary student projects between mathematics and other sciences.

Students from left to right: Tessel Majtlis, Joeltje Aldershoff en Tamika van 't Hoff

Interdisciplinary projects help students understand in depth the mathematics they have learned and how to apply this in a context they don’t easily encounter within the Bachelor. In  the Couples-project the starting point is a problem, an anomalous behavior or question, not the mathematical theory itself. This initial problem is proposed by an external partner. The students have to convert the observed phenomenon into a mathematical model, the further analysis of this abstract model should lead to a deeper understanding of the observed phenomenon. In the end, students have to make conclusions about the phenomenon they have studied mathematically, and communicate this in a clear way to the external partner.

Nicos Starreveld about the project: ,,We ran the Couples-project last year in the spring semester together with a group from the Van ‘t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences. Two, 3rd-year Bachelor students from Mathematics and one Master student from Chemistry  participated in the project. The supervision was done by people from both Mathematics and Chemistry. The Couples-project was connected to the student’s graduation projects (Bachelor and Master project) and each student had to work individually on their projects, but the topics were chosen at the interface of mathematics and chemistry. In addition to the individual projects we also had two goals as a team. The first one was to make a scientific poster illustrating the joint project and present it at the Dutch Mathematics Conference (Nederlands Mathematisch Congress) and the second goal was to write a popular science article discussing the joint project. 

IIS grant as a starting point

Starreveld used the grant to experiment with interdisciplinary team work and science communication:  ,,With the Couples-project I developed a new module concerning some academic skills that are not so broadly taught in our department, namely working in an interdisciplinary team and popular science communication. Having to work in an interdisciplinary team stimulated the students to think about their research from a different perspective. It took some time though to get used to this new perspective, both for the mathematicians and the chemists, but having to work on a common poster and a popular science article helped a lot. I am very glad I was awarded this grant and could develop this educational activity. I think that if you have an idea about a new interdisciplinary educational activity then this grant is a very good starting point.”

As part of the Couples-project Starreveld also developed two workshopstogether with IIS, the first about “Working in an interdisciplinary team” and the second about “Popular science communication”. The modules we developed and all the material is available for future practices and can be used in other disciplines out of mathematics as well. Contact the IIS if you are interested.