In my high school mathematics classroom, I have often found it difficult to offer students relevant applications of the material we study. This is particularly true when the topics are abstract or concepts in number theory.
As mathematics teachers we have access to an increasing amount of material in map coloring and vertex-edge graphs. These topics in mathematics are the first experiences for students’ study of social and network analysis. The Common Core standards in mathematics have included this material as a part of their expectations as well.
My examples of vertex-edge graphs have always included the networks between airports, trains, one-way streets, etc. In the classroom, however, I often felt the students found these applications rather dull. That’s why I was excited to hear “The Warrior Mathematician” on NPR recently. This story provides a strong example of how networking is used to find and capture terrorists and criminals. In the story Major Ian McCulloh, deputy director of the Counter-IED Operations Center in Baghdad stated that “Civilian firms have used social network analysis for decades to map out those relationships and identify the organization’s vulnerabilities. The same principles apply to threat networks. This helps us identify their vulnerabilities.”
There are familiar civilian analogs as well. Law enforcement, for example, has made good use of technology, science, and mathematics to prevent crime and solve criminal cases. A number of law enforcement agencies have gone even further and used certain mathematical principles to forecast trends and take preventive action before those trends become too far-reaching. The Warrior Mathematician, along with an increasing number of civilian instances, offers students a compelling look at the relevance and application of mathematical principles.