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Communicating The Way Mathematicians Do

I've been a mathematics educator for over 20 years and have always kept abreast of the latest technology. There are many excellent tools for investigating mathematics, but until recently all the available tools forced users to use the computer or handheld keyboard, which is clearly not the way mathematicians work. Unlike the subjects of English and history in which a QWERTY keyboard is an excellent interface, mathematics and science are at best clumsily communicated via a traditional keyboard. For that reason, we preferred paper and pencil or marker and whiteboard. On the other hand, interactive whiteboards and tablet PCs represent an environment in which mathematicians and scientists can easily share their ideas electronically. Fortunately, software has begun to emerge that recognizes handwriting so the software is simply a natural extension of the stylus or marker.

One such piece of software with which I have been working is FluidMath. This software has improved my teaching experience immensely. In particular, the software lets me write anywhere on the page and will recognize my handwritten math expressions and equations and turn them into graphs and tables quickly without thinking about or navigating the user interface. From my perspective as a math educator, I feel my work has greatly benefited from these capabilities. Everything on the FluidMath page is dynamic so, for example if you change a function, the associated graph, table, and solution change as well. Variables can be associated with sliders, so the environment is incredibly dynamic. Both graphs and sliders are created by a one-stroke gesture.

Click here to see video demonstration 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vREuu7fGorA

The FluidMath software platform also includes a broad and general-purpose Computer Algebra System (CAS). The Common Core Standards Initiative (1) lists CAS as an appropriate tool when solving a mathematical problem. CAS has been getting more attention in textbooks and will, in my opinion, continue to see increased emphasis. The teacher or student interfaces with its CAS through handwritten input via the screen of the computer in order to do mathematical computation or graphing. With Fluidmath, the tablet PC is not used as a substitute for manipulation skills, but rather as a tool for investigation. This change in perspective is incredibly important – it helps students be mathematicians and not just learn mathematics.

Click here to see video demonstration 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOmt2R79sPA

In sum, I see the advantage of this software for 1:1 educators as three fold. First, the handwriting recognition is outstanding. Second, FluidMath uses standard mathematical notation so teachers and students alike need not learn any new syntax as you would with almost any other mathematical software. Third, the dynamic nature of this software means mathematics no longer need be a ‘paper and pencil’ subject but it can now come alive.

Based on my experiences, FluidMath in conjunction with tablet PCs make the learning of mathematics more effective, more engaging, and more enjoyable.

(Note that this software is not yet on the market but is scheduled to be released in the near furture. For more information, visit: www.fluiditysoftware.com )

(1) "Common Core State Standards Initiative | Mathematics | Introduction | Standards for Mathematical Practice." Common Core State Standards Initiative | Home. Web. 04 Feb. 2011. .
March 8th, 2011 @ 3:03PM