*This entry is with full respect to those individuals and their families who have been missing since the flight's disappearance.*

Our textbooks like to give “Real
World” problems. Too many times these are at the end of the
section or under a section called “Modeling” and they are so
canned, they are unrealistic - thus defeating their purpose. This
pedagogical paradigm that our textbooks frame assumes that we should
teach skills before content but this is like teaching vocabulary
without context and in the world of vocabulary learning, context is
everything (think spelling bee... Can you use this in a sentence?) We
need to be always teaching context for math just like any other
language always uses context and the Malaysian Flight 370
disappearance is a perfect example. Many people are wondering –
why haven't we found the floating stuff that we see with the
satellite?

What a perfect related rates problem.

If I wasn't on spring break right now,
I'd ask my calculus class this exact question. Here's the
information:

-7 days ago the Australian government
spotted a big object floating in a location 1,400 miles south of
Perth

-The current in the South Indian Ocean
flows at 1m/s.

-We can imagine that the search area
becomes a sector area (assuming its still floating) – we can make
up some reasonable angle such as it can move 15 degrees in either
direction from the center line of the current.

Now ask the question again given this
information and see what happens in a calculus class. A follow up
question might be: what is the rate at which the search area is
changing every day/hour/minute/second. I would love to see students
problem solving (making diagrams, asking questions, etc) and seeing
why its so hard to find debris in the ocean.

I found this information on CNN.com so
why not integrate literacy into the lesson by having students read
for information (your English/Social Studies/Science teachers will
love you because they always assume that students are learning math
the way they did 25 years ago). As of yesterday, CNN also states “
the current search area is 2.97

*million*(Thanks to Dan Meyer for checking me on the details) square miles” - that's roughly the size of the continental US. Can you imagine 15 planes and 30 ships trying to find something 100 feet long somewhere in the continental US?
A great follow-up
discussion would be how to maximize the efficiency of searching,
hoping that they find the objects soon would be even more remarkable.

(Want to make
this an Trig/Precalc lesson? Ask students about how the sector area
and how height changes the distance which a person can see on the
ocean – how many ships are necessary and of what height to cover
the search area?)

For more problems like this check out Stu Swartz's "Ripped From the Headlines" at mastermathmentor.com