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Climate change, community-based projects, differential equations, Euler’s method, mathematical modeling, numerical methods, renewable energy, solar panels, sustainability


Mathematics | Physical Sciences and Mathematics | Science and Mathematics Education


How does mathematics connect with the search for solutions to the climate emergency? One simple connection, which can be explored in an introductory differential equations course, can be found by analyzing the energy generated by solar panels or wind turbines. The power generated by these devices is typically recorded at standard time intervals producing a data set which gives a discrete approximation to the power function $P(t)$. Using numerical techniques such as Euler’s method, one can determine the energy generated. Here we describe how we introduce the topic of solar power, apply Euler’s method to determine the energy generated, and provide a variety of lesson extensions which engage students in an exploration of policy issues related to climate change. I use these examples in my course on mathematical modeling and sustainability. There I not only want my students to understand how mathematics can be used to examine important real-world issues like climate change, but I also want to empower them to use their mathematical skills to help create solutions. To that end, the course has a community-based field component in which the students assist a community partner by analyzing a sustainability problem of relevance to the partner organization.



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