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Zoe is an Energy & Environment Project Coordinator at Optivo – a large housing association covering Kent, London, Sussex and the Midlands. Her role involves implementing a transport plan to help Optivo transition to more sustainable travel, including moving to electric vehicles for their in-house fleet. She is also researching Optivo’s open spaces to identify opportunities for carbon storage and offsetting, biodiversity net gain, and the best ways to manage them to help improve people’s physical health and mental wellbeing.
How would you characterise your current work?
As a large housing association managing over 45,000 homes, we have a high carbon footprint, particularly from our business travel and construction of new housing developments. We recently committed to measure our progress against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. We’ll measure our performance against global objectives such as combatting climate change and eliminating poverty. We also aim to be “net zero” by 2050.
My role in this involves researching different ways we can aim towards these goals and manage programs to improve the energy efficiency of the homes we manage and future-proof them for climate change. I’m also drafting a new transport plan, identifying areas where we can use technology to reduce our carbon emissions from business travel.
How do you feel about maths?
I can safely say that throughout my school years I never quite fully grasped maths. I found it a very difficult subject and it felt like a foreign language. Indeed, it is a language in itself in a way, which is part of what makes it fascinating. Once you understand a sequence or type of calculation you have an “aha!” moment where it suddenly makes sense. With maths there’s always something new to discover. It wasn’t until I went to university that I understood it more and could start to apply it in my analytical and statistical work as well as in everyday situations.
What is it about your work that is mathematical?
Many aspects of my work involve maths. Interrogating geographical information system (GIS) data is one aspect. For example, pulling out different layers to calculate the amount of open space we own and the average size of gardens, and combining where we have properties with Environment Agency flood risk maps to see how many of our homes are at risk of flooding, and where these are located. This is only one example!
How do you use maths, calculation or numeracy in your work? What tools do you use to help you?
Most of the maths I use in my work now is done automatically using Excel. But even though most of the calculations are done automatically there’s still an important element of having a basic understanding of maths and numeracy so when I check the calculations afterwards, I can ensure the results are accurate. I’ve also found it’s important to fully understand what I want Excel to calculate for me. If I need to get to a particular outcome, then I need to know what calculations to ask the computer to do to reach that outcome. That’s the part I often find most challenging.
Do you think maths is creative? If so, how?
In isolation, I don’t think it is. Based on my experience in school it was very structured and studied in a way that I felt didn’t really allow us to explore how we could apply it to everyday situations or link it up with other topics or subjects. But when it’s teamed up with other topics, from music and art, to building architecture, then I think it is very creative. Using maths, specifically geometry, alongside architecture for the design of buildings to shape their spatial and angle aspects to design futuristic and beautiful buildings is one example. A great example is the Temple of Kukulcan pyramid at Chichen Itza in Mexico. It was specifically designed using maths and astrology to represent the Mayan calendar, with 91 steps on each of the four sides, multiplying to a total of 364 steps. In more recent times, from a sustainability perspective, maths is very useful in designing buildings in a way that enables them to be self-sufficient and sustainable.
Do you use or rely on any maths that you learnt in school?
To a certain extent yes. I might use the maths I learnt in school to work out how much I can save on a dress in the 70% off sale! The statistical side of maths has certainly proved useful for what I do now. For example, for some recent analytical work I carried out from survey feedback, I was tasked with finding out if there was a statistically significant difference in whether people with a disability or from a minority ethnic background were at higher risk of being excluded from employment opportunities. Interrogating data in this way is important in helping us effectively target areas to run employment and training workshops to help close the gap in the inequalities of gaining employment in the areas we operate in.
How would you change the school curriculum, if you had the chance? Why?
I would change how rigid the maths structure is by letting students be more creative with how they calculate things to get to the answer. Our brains process information differently and this should be celebrated more. Because maths can be more fluid if it’s allowed to be. When I was at school, I was taught just one or a few set ways to calculate something. Some of the methods I was taught just didn’t make sense to me, so I’d find other ways of processing the information to find the answer. Some of the methods I used to work something out weren’t always understood by my teachers. As a result, I was often told “that’s the wrong way – you need to do it this way.” But I’ve found there can be different paths to take to get to the same result and if students work things out differently to reach the answer, that is fine as well.
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