Mathematica Classroom Gets Students Interested in Math
High school math will never be the same at Torrey Pines High
School in San Diego, California. Abby Brown and her students are pushing the
limits of traditional learning with Mathematica.
Brown first began teaching, she used a single Mathematica license
to quickly and accurately graph functions and typeset traditional math symbols
for tests, quizzes, and handouts. A few years later, her school in conjunction
with San Diego State University began a special program that gives advanced
math students a chance to earn college credit in Calculus II, Multivariable
Calculus, and Linear Algebra. To supplement these new courses, Brown used
Mathematica to create visual aids such as graphs of tangential planes
and matrix operation demos. She displayed the graphics during lectures with a
projector attached to her computer. "Visualization is so valuable, and
Mathematica is a tremendous tool for this," Brown explains.
Brown found even more ways to incorporate Mathematica into her
lessons when her school purchased enough licenses to allow students to use it
in math and science classes as well as in the central computer lab. "My
philosophy focuses heavily on teaching using multiple methods of
representation," says Brown. "My students' projects center on this, and
Mathematica works well for combining graphical, symbolic, numerical,
and verbal techniques."
Although Brown notes that she finds Mathematica most useful for
teaching advanced courses, even her Algebra I students are captivated by the
graphics and show improvement when she incorporates them into the course. One
year, several Algebra I students didn't believe that the curve 1/x would never
cross the x-axis. Using Mathematica, the students were able to
investigate their theory by zooming in on the plot repeatedly, searching for an
intersection. When they were satisfied that their teacher was correct, the
students presented their final graphs to the class.
Using Mathematica is sometimes a challenge for Brown's students, but
they are good at learning from their classmates' mistakes and helping each
other with nuances of the code. The most common problems involve forgotten
commas and capital letters. Brown has found that "with more practice, they
learn to spot these errors and make fewer of them." Giving students early
exposure to Mathematica will help them succeed in future math and
science courses and can help increase their interest in technology-related
Recently, Brown led several workshops to teach her colleagues how to take
advantage of Mathematica as a teaching tool. She also wrote a tutorial
titled "Exponentials vs. Factorials" to demonstrate how
Mathematica can aid teaching in ways that aren't possible with a textbook or
a graphing calculator.
Brown has also created a website that is a great resource for students and
teachers. There is an activity section with puzzles, problems, and codes for
students to solve. Ideas on how Mathematica can add a new dimension to
math courses are available, and sample teaching modules in Mathematica
notebook form can be downloaded. Brown has also included information on her
teaching philosophy, sample student presentations, and links to other
math-oriented web resources. View the site www.abbymath.com
for more details.