Cube Roots & Global Warming

I’m planning my first unit of the year. We’ll explore radicals, exponents, and their relationship with the real number system. I enjoy planning this unit because it’s full of fascinating puzzles, deep structure, and a variety of representations. However, it’s pretty lacking in real-world applications. You can only ask so many questions about finding the side length of a square given its area — and how often does that actually happen?

But I just remembered a fun application that I’m excited to teach when I introduce cube roots:


This was an installation at Bowdoin College, where I went to school. The artist, Madelyn Sullivan, designed it to represent one ton of carbon dioxide — the approximate emissions of one US citizen over two weeks. This article summarizes the installation.

Some information will have to be withheld — the article gives away the dimensions of the cube, but starting with one ton of carbon dioxide gives plenty of information. I went through the math and was surprised at how hard the conversions were — I’ll need to scaffold the conversions and give students key information, though it would’ve been fun to have them do the research.

I’m not sure how well this all fits together — it seems like it may be a leap to go from “hey, let’s talk about climate change” to “I wonder how big a ton of CO2 is”, and then “what if we want to put that in a cube? How long would one side be?” It’s not perfect, but I’m in need of some application, and a personal story is always a good hook for my students.

3 thoughts on “Cube Roots & Global Warming

  1. mrmillermath

    Perhaps – If we were going to doing a similar installation representing the carbon dioxide emissions for everyone in our school – how big would it be? Would it fit our our football field? Is there anywhere in the city we could put it?

    1. dkane47 Post author

      Awesome extension. I like going back and forth between cubes/cube roots and proportional reasoning, sticking with just the roots seems like an inauthentic context that is never going to transfer. Definitely using that!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s