written by Ryan Andersen

I recently attended an MCTM (Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics) conference, and I came away with so many great ideas and resources for teaching, I just had to pass them on. Please do not be shy about letting me know what you think about them in the comments, letting me know about others you may have found, and be sure to pass this blog post on to friends if you find it helpful!

Intriguing Concept #1: The Math Party

Located at http://www.TheMathParty.com, The Math Party is a way to engage students in math by having them sing and dance along to songs about mathematics. Although I have never seen this in action (besides the clips on the front page of their website), it seems like a pretty cool idea: get kids up and moving around and engaged in learning. Also, the research seems rather conclusive that this product really works. I just wonder how well this works for the majority of students, what grade levels it is effective for, and whether it really helps students learn concepts or if they are simply memorizing the words to the songs and therefore they can remember certain ideas better. Either way, it could certainly be useful in some contexts I would think.

Intriguing Concept #2: Aleks

Located at http://www.Aleks.com, Aleks is a “smart” online program that adapts its assessments based on student answers. For instance, if after a diagnostic test to begin a topic, the program finds that a student is weak in a certain area, it will continue to ask questions related to that area at lower and lower levels until the student is able to answer a question correctly. It then knows the base level for the student, and builds up his/her knowledge base from there. This tool can be used as a credit recovery program to help catch students up who have failed a course, or it can even be used during the year as a way for all students to learn at their own pace. It really seems like a cool idea, but it makes me wonder whether it is almost replacing the role of the teacher in the classroom. It at least reduces the teacher’s role to almost a tutor. It is very innovative and thought-provoking, however; especially as a summer school program. Definitely worth looking into. Plus, it is very affordable, especially for schools!

Intriguing Concept #3: SMART Math Notebook

The SMART Math Notebook improved on many iffy features from the normal SMART Notebook software. For instance, you can now drag the corners of any of their drop-down shapes (of which there are several more since the last update), and change the shape into any shape you wish. You can choose to show interior angles and side lengths or any shape. Regular shapes can be divided into any number of equal pieces. The ruler can extend as long as you need it (literally extend, NOT just stretch). The protractor turns, but the numbers always stay upright. It recognizes hand-written equations (finally!) and can solve these once they are recognized. There are several more new features, but there are a few downsides. First, there are a few bugs with the software, but they are being worked on and should be fixed within a few months. And the big downside, the math Notebook software will NOT be free. In fact it will probably cost more than $100. Also, although you can try the free beta version for the next few months after uninstalling your current Notebook software (download at http://www2.smarttech.com/st/en-US/Products/SMART+Notebook+Math+software/), if you do not wish to pay for it once the trial is over, you will have to uninstall the math Notebook and re-install your normal Notebook software. You have to consider whether it is worth it or not.

Intriguing Concept #4: Texas Instruments

Okay, obviously Texas Instruments has been around for a long time. So what could be so intriguing about them? Well, for one, they launched http://www.timath.com/, which has a bunch of math activities for TI calculators, a teachers’ lounge for discussing topics, and much more. This site by itself is noteworthy. The main reason TI has impressed me so much lately is because of their newest calculator, the TI NSpire. The NSpire is by far the most impressive graphing calculator that I have seen. To be more accurate, it is a handheld computer designed to do math. Although not much larger than a TI-84+ (or any other TI model), the capabilities are seemingly endless. I will recount some of the amazing new features available on this calculator below:

Intriguing Concept #4 continued: TI NSpire

The TI NSpire is so similar to a computer that if you are familiar with computers and shortcut keys, you will feel right at home on the NSpire. It is almost entirely menu-driven, meaning that any function you want to perform can be found in one (or more) of its menus. Most times, there are 2 or 3 ways of doing something on this calculator. Variable values, statistical data, graphs, equations, lists, and other problem-specific information are stored for each individual problem, and everything is wiped clean every time you start a new problem, but you can always save old problems and come back to them. There are notes pages where you can type notes to yourself and write two-column proofs. There are built-in templates that make it simple to perform operations with matrices, do logs to any base, and write piece-wise functions. You can split the screen into several areas and show a table, graph, and notes page all in the same window, for instance. You can find the max, min, and zeroes of a function simply by tracing (no more left-bound, right-bound, guess!). You can update data values or pull on a graph to change it, and the equation (or regression equation) changes automatically with the data. The geometry software that is built in is just like Geometer’s Sketchpad, and can be incorporated with Algebraic graphs as well. Also, it is capable of easily graphing inequalities. Transformations of graphs by grabbing and moving or by using sliders is easy and effective. The help menus are incredibly useful and thorough. Fractions actually look and act like fractions, and converting between fractions and decimals is easy and painless. And finally, the NSpire comes with a TI-84+ keypad that, when inserted, transforms (literally) the NSpire into an 84+. So you get two calculators in one.

Well, those were the high points of the conference. As you can see, the TI NSpire was the product that blew me away the most. These were just the highlights of the NSpire. It seems as though the folks at TI have taken all of the suggestions over the years about what needed to be done to improve the calculator and they did it all in this one calculator. Make sure to leave comments if you have anything to contribute to my discussion!

Hi Ryan,

I am really thrilled with your account of what transpired at the MCTM Conference. I am male Zambian teacher of mathematics at a High School in Zambia, Southern Africa. I am also the National Chairman for ZAME (Zambia Association for Mathematics Education). It is really a pit that in Zambia we have not really gone so technological in the area of mathematics. Such a calculator you so well described is to me far much more than the ordinary ones which we use in schools. The softawares for maths are other things which just longed for, but we do not access them.

My heart really pains when I realise how far we are at improving the learning of mathematics and making it enjoyable. How I wish there was a way I could buy such a calculator and access all important maths software through you: because internet purchases are usually not very reliable for us here.

I have enjoyed your brief report, please keep it up and keep me posted.

Your fellow service person in Maths

C.A. Hamajata

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