Archive for the ‘Math Software’ Category

Math Technology to Engage, Delight, and Excite

Back in May 2010 I presented a keynote at the MAA-Michigan meeting in Ypsilanti.  Even though it sounds like it’s about math, it’s really more about a philosophy of using technology to engage students.  Yes, the examples are in the context of math, but if you’re involved with educational technology in any way, I think much of the talk is applicable to all subjects.

We’re in a recession and so is your department budget.  Luckily for you, there are lots of great programs and web resources that you can use to teach math, and most of these are free.  Use the resources in this presentation to tackle the technology problems that haunt you and capture the attention of your math classes with interactive demonstrations and relevant web content.

Here is the video, audio, and slides from my keynote talk “Math Technology to Engage, Delight, and Excite” from the MAA-Michigan meeting in May 2010.  There is also an iPad/iPod-friendly version here.

In case you’re wondering, the PIP video was recorded from a Flip Video camera that was affixed to one of the seats in the auditorium with masking tape.  It’s not elegant, but it works.

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Top 10 Open Source Tools for Math

Thanks to Heather Johnson for contributing this post during a week that was, well, a bit busy!

The open source movement has been gaining steady momentum in the past few years. More people are now using open source tools than ever before, from Firefox to The GIMP. Included with this movement are niche programs that are dedicated to specific disciplines, including mathematics.

There are many commercial programs and applications for mathematics. However, they can be very expensive, as you well know. Open source tools, however, are completely free of charge and foster a learning community between both amateur and professional mathematicians. Below are 10 open source tools for math that are becoming very popular.

SAGE – SAGE can be used for studying a wide variety of mathematics, including algebra, calculus, number theory, graph theory and more. It is used as an open source alternative to many commercial mathematics programs, including Magma, Maple, Mathematica and MATLAB.

Maxima – This popular computer algebra system puts an emphasis on symbolic computation. It can be used for advanced algebraic calculations and will plot functions and data in both two and three dimensions.

Octave – Octave is a high-level program that performs numerical computations. It is often used in conjunction with MATLAB. Octave is written in C++ and features its own interpreter that translates the Octave language.

Scilab – This advanced numerical computation package hails from France. Similar to MATLAB, this free program is a high-level programming language that can make large computations with just a few lines of code.

GAP – GAP is short for Groups, Algorithms, Programming. An algebraic computation system, its main focus is on computational group theory. GAP includes its own programming language, as well as large data libraries of algebraic objects.

OpenMath – This open source markup language is quickly becoming a standard for representing mathematical objects with their semantics. By using OpenMath, mathematical information can be easily stored, published and passed between computer programs.

OMDoc – Short for Open Mathematical Documents, OMDoc is a semantic markup language used for mathematic documents. OMDoc encompasses the entire range of written mathematic documents, unlike the aforementioned OpenMath.

Axiom – This general-purpose computer algebra system has been in development since 1971. Formerly known as Scratchpad, it was originally developed by IBM and has slowly evolved into a popular open source tool.

Macaulay 2 – This computer algebra system has a specific focus on polynomial computations. It was designed to support research in geometry and commutative algebra.

YACAS – YACAS, also known as Yet Another Computer Algebra System, is a general-purpose program for symbolic manipulation of mathematical computations. The purpose of this program is to make computer calculations easy for all.

This post was contributed by Heather Johnson, who is an industry critic on the subject of university reviews. She invites your feedback at

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A MATH reader for Blind Students

When I was in San Diego two weeks ago, I met with Bob Mathews, from Design Science and he mentioned a product called MathPlayer that they produce to help the visually impaired. The player reads mathematical text aloud, and you can alter the way it reads certain functions aloud (for example, you may prefer close parens or you might like it to just say parenthesis). The program understands the need to know whether a portion of a fraction is the numerator or the denominator, it understands that you would need to know when the argument of the square root ends, etc.

I asked Bob if he could find a way to share the demo that he showed me and he has put some time in to create a web page to demonstrate the product’s capabilities (thanks Bob!). You may want to open the Audio portion in a separate window so that you can still see the text that it was set up to read.

You can download the MathPlayer (free) on the Design Science website and play with it yourself. The voice is pretty mechanical-sounding, but Bob told me that if the listener has paid for an upgraded voice, it is pretty realistic.

Our college paid thousands of dollars to have a math book printed in braille last year for a blind student. With all the materials available on the Internet, we might have been able to use MathPlayer and JAWS to read the notes from one of the free online sites. There is also a possibility that the “read aloud” option may be available to read a book file provided by the publisher in the future. Wouldn’t that be cool?

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Microsoft Math?

Okay, I’ll admit it… I had never ever heard of this product until today. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

Apparently Microsoft Math launched quietly in June 2007… here’s the link to the article.

I was complaining to my Calculus class today about the fact that graphing calculators have always cost around $100 and don’t appear to be dropping in price like everything else with microchips, and one of my students said… well, you could use Microsoft Math… for the record, I think my student learned about it because he was home-schooled for most of his life and his math skills may have outpaced his parents.

The program costs $19.95 and includes, not only a graphing calculator for your computer that is capable of graphing 3-D, but also has Solver features that show students the steps to work through algebra problems.

Hmm. Of course, it won’t work on a Mac… which is a problem. But could it be a viable alternative to a $120 graphing calculator? (you may remember my calculator rant from a few weeks ago)

I have mixed feelings about these “solver” features. On the one hand, it was a very good student that is using this, so he obviously finds the step-by-step features helpful. However, I can see the possibility of misuse in the hands of less conscienscious students.

What is cool, however, is that you can write your mathematics into the program and it gives you a list of choices that it interprets to be your mathematical desire. Perhaps this would encourage better handwriting?

Another thought… this might be an excellent product to have installed in our math tutoring centers, especially for those times when a tutor is not available.

Have any of you used this program? I’ve downloaded the trial and I’m going to check it out, but maybe some of you have some experience with it already?

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Today I want to be a Chemist…

Okay, okay, I know… this is a blog for math and technology. But occasionally I have to stray just a little. I do have a degree in Chemistry too… so I am allowed!

This is totally the coolest interactive periodic table website I have ever seen! And it was created with Mathematica (believe it or not).

Surely you could use the data provided with each element for some kind of math problem? Or you could show your students the appropriate chemical element if it shows up in a word problem.

P.S. I found this site on the Wolfram Blog… which you might want to check out yourself!

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