November 11, 2002–Wolfram Research, Inc., headquartered in Champaign, Illinois, is demonstrating its commitment to education with a recent donation to area schools. Champaign Central High School, Champaign Centennial High School, Urbana High School, and University High School will each receive 15 Mathematica licenses for classroom use as well as three hundred dollars to put toward math tournament fees. All of the schools’ math teams usually make a strong showing in local, state, and national tournaments, and Wolfram Research is glad to help defray their participation costs.
Teachers at the schools are very enthusiastic about the donation because it provides increased access to Mathematica. The teachers plan to integrate it into their classrooms, using it to create demonstrations, handouts, and exams. One feature that many teachers appreciate is Mathematica‘s ability to automatically typeset traditional mathematical symbols right in the same document. This feature eliminates confusion caused by messy handwritten symbols and saves teachers the trouble of integrating image files of the symbols into typical word-processing documents.
Six math teachers at Champaign Central High School have already taken classes on how to use Mathematica and have written Mathematica-based lessons for their students. “We’re all looking forward to using it for creating graphics for handouts and tests,” says Kara Harmon, head of Central’s math department. “We will use Mathematica to give hands-on, student-centered instruction.” Harmon plans to start by introducing freshmen to the basics of using Mathematica. These first-year projects will be saved for comparison with senior-year work.
Some teachers are extending their use of Mathematica beyond the math classroom. Louie Beuschlein, a teacher at Urbana High School, uses Mathematica in a variety of other ways. He has developed a loan calculator that takes in user inputs of term, rate, and down payment and produces an amortization for a loan. For trigonometry class, Beuschlein uses triangle animations to help his students better understand the important concepts. In physics class, he supplements sound wave lessons with a Mathematica notebook that generates and graphs different sound frequencies. For presentations on light, he uses Mathematica to create sine graphs that correspond to light waves. “It’s a powerful program,” Beuschlein says. “I would like to make more use of it, for my classes and myself.”
The math department at University High School is planning to use Mathematica to create printed graphics, active classroom demonstrations, and group work. Craig Russell, the head of the department, explains that “our staff has a goal of increasing the use of and exposure to technology throughout our math curriculum.” One specific project Russell is preparing for his Algebra 2 students is a computer algebra system lesson on linear equations.
For the schools that have already been using Mathematica, this donation helps save on upgrade costs. It may also make it easier for Champaign-Urbana students to take part in NetMath, the UIUC (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) distance learning program that uses the latest version of Mathematica. Debra Woods, director of the NetMath program, also hopes that students who are not strong in math will be able to participate in a new precalculus program starting spring semester. According to Woods, if past projects are any indication of future success, “We should see an outcome where students are less afraid of math and might actually even say they like it!”
Wolfram Research not only is active on the local level but also sponsors national and international academic and corporate communities with direct contributions to education-related programs and scientific research. For example, online educational resources such as MathWorld, The Integrator, and Mathematical Functions are freely available for anyone interested in learning about math.