College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Numb3rs: “Crime Scene” for Math Camp

Yellow crime-scene tape blocked the entrance to Hume Hall. Just inside the doors, red tape outlined the place the “body” was found. It would take some of the brightest minds in northern Mississippi to solve the case.

That was the scenario waiting for 13 high-school students during a weeklong summer math camp at UM. The setup jump-started the camp, providing a real-life situation in which students could learn how mathematics is used in everyday life.

“Math has a reputation of being a rather dry subject,” said Tristan Denley, UM mathematics chair and a camp instructor. “We introduced these students to a wide range of math skills, and, hopefully, the math came alive and inspired them. We wanted the students to realize that math is useful in everyday, real life.”

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University Police Department Sgt. David Mahaffey briefed the students on the known details surrounding the “death,” including the time the body was discovered and the temperature of the body when the coroner arrived. Applying Newton’s law of cooling and other physics equations, the students determined the time of death and judged whether the death was an accident, suicide or murder. To help uncover clues, the students decoded messages discovered on a USB drive.

The crime-scene exercise, inspired by the CBS television series “NUMB3RS,” and the MathCamp experience were intended to encourage the students to consider college majors in fields such as science, mathematics and engineering.

Camper Antron McKay, a rising senior at Rosa Fort High School in Tunica, said he is excited about unraveling the mystery because he hopes to become an elementary math teacher or perhaps a crime lab technician. “Ever since I was young, I have loved math,” he said. “This camp is providing us with real-world experience and it’s a great opportunity.”

UM’s new Center for Mathematics and Science Education, funded through a $1.2 million gift from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in 2006, is sponsoring the camp. The center aims to improve math and science education across the state by fostering interaction between UM departments and K-12 public schools.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which measures student achievement across the nation, recently ranked Mississippi 49th in mathematics preparedness for eighth-grade students.

The Hearin Foundation is named for the late Jackson business leader and philanthropist. The foundation has given generously to a number of initiatives at UM, including the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, a new UM Chair of Reading and the Hearin Center for Enterprise Science.

Besides Denley, other UM faculty serving as camp instructors are Peter Sukanek, chair and professor of chemical engineering; Barbara Dougherty, professor of curriculum and instruction; and Angela Barlow, associate professor of curriculum and instruction; as well as CMSE fellows Steve Case, Jennifer Fillingin, Shannon Harmon, Jessica Ivy, Julie James and Michael McCrory.

The following students are enrolled in the camp: Jeffrey Friday, Ashley Park and Lauren Sanner of Horn Lake High School; Ronald Boyce Jr., Kenyata Gulledge and Erica Walker of H.W. Byers High School (Marshall County); Elizabeth Petre of Itawamba High School; Anna Blake Rikard of Lafayette High School; Rimaz Zein of Oxford High School; and Kendrick Buford, Breanna Lambert, Antron McKay and Erving Williams of Rosa Fort High School.

For more information, visit https://www.olemiss.edu/programs/cmse/,