teaching high school students using homeland security applications

A Baltimore area high school is using homeland security as a vehicle for teaching math and other skills. I read an interesting article this morning about Meade High School’s four year program in homeland security, which teaches math and other critical thinking skills.

The obvious motivation for the program is to prepare kids for homeland security jobs down the road. Sadly, math is hardly mentioned in the article. I admire how the school seems to address homeland security issues across the spectrum, but I wonder if they might be too focused on terrorism (as evident by the quote below). Will the skills transfer to other domains?

“There’s a lot of homeland security issues in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ” said Bill Sheppard, the program coordinator. “Like, how do you deal with infiltration in your own family?”

This made me smile–I never knew that terrorism was the central theme to Romeo and Juliet

Although the article sidesteps math for the most part, it mentions several government agencies that hires OR, math, and engineering types. One such agency is the National Security Agency (NSA), which mainly operates out of Fort Meade close to Meade HS. The NSA is full of geeks. They have an excellent OR group, and they even have a summer internship program exclusively for OR types (Summer Program in Operations Research Technology).

Homeland security is an application area close to my own heart. I find that people love to talk to me about every time they’ve been frisked at an airport or what they think should be done to prevent the next terrorism catastrophe. Homeland security is an excellent avenue for talking about resource allocation and management as well as risk analysis, decision analysis, and game theory. One of the things on my To Do List is to create a introductory course on OR modeling using homeland security and emergency preparedness applications aimed at undergrads. I have an outline for the OR methodologies I plan to cover, but now I’m thinking about getting the right mix of application areas so students really “get it” (I won’t cover Romeo and Juliet).

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4 responses to “teaching high school students using homeland security applications

  • Bernoulli-Blogger

    That would be great idea. Coming from a computer security background I read Bruce Schneier’s book Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World. Bruce is very popular in computer security, given his cryptographic skills and books on the suject. I would say his intention was to write this book as thinking critically about homeland security, but I think the book suffered from some of his personal bias. Bruce is thoughtful about security, but often dismisses unlikely events without giving weight to the event or treating any unlikely event as very costly when that may not be the case. I do agree with Bruce’s general view in this book that much of what is presented as security is just a bunch of theater (only small amounts of liquid in an airport, etc.). I just wished he could have presented a more rigorous analysis of how he came to this conclusion or addressed views beyond his own without being dismissive.

    It would be refreshing to have someone with an OR background read this book and find where they can improve upon it by taking the reader through the evaluation process with real OR skills and not just stories that are filtered to the author’s bias. I would love to see your outline and what strategies/skills could be applied to make the best decision for real security (vs. security theater) and how you can measure the success of these strategies/skills.

  • Laura

    A Washington Post blog x=why? examines high school math in more detail. The blog posted a link to the following youtube video, which is pretty neat.

  • Paul Rubin

    Maybe you could get the HSOR people to do a homeland security module or two, and then use the buzz to get it adopted in a math curriculum?

    Incidentally, the terrorism aspect is probably a little more obvious in “West Side Story” than in “Romeo and Juliet”.

  • Laura

    I promise to work on it in my free time!

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