The mathematics 389 course at Claremont Graduate University introduced operations research (OR), which is the use of mathematical models to guide decisions and improve the performance of systems. Although there are many branches to OR, the class emphasized the fundamental branch of optimization; which is maximizing an object function over a constrained solution space. The main goal of the class was not only to introduce us to basic techniques, but also to the thought process of operations research. Furthermore, through the major assignment of the course, we learned how to think like an operations researcher, by framing problems mathematically, by identifying underlying assumptions and by testing the sensitivity of the solutions to these assumptions.
The main assignment of the course was a case study, which was a group project in which we had the freedom to select the topic. My group decided to create a linear problem that would create the master schedule for the Mathematics Department of Pacific High School. The master schedule we created was intended to not only meet the needs of students, but also to maximize teacher’s happiness. In order to maximize teacher’s happiness we took into account our returning teachers preference of courses to be taught the following school year. In addition, the master schedule had to be created with the purpose that all courses for students, grades nine through twelve, were met without exceeding the limits on the number of unique course preparations and the total number of coursed taught.
By exploring the basic applications of operations research, I gained an appreciation for its omnipresence in modern life. Moreover, it increased my mathematical knowledge since I knew almost nothing of OR before the course, and of all of its applications and effects on modern life. The class made me a better teacher because it increased my knowledge of the applications of mathematics. When my students ask me how is mathematics used in the real world, now I have a vast number of ways to answer that question and go a step further by providing them with my personal experience in the case study. For example, I can mention how operations research lies in the interface of computer science, engineering, and business.