Math on a Milk Carton?

Missing @ NECC -- MathI ran across an interesting posting on Hitchhikr yesterday attached to NECC 2007.  Lcrosswe, a Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina Math teacher, laments in NECC puts math on a milk carton

I have spent the last few days trying to refine my schedule for NECC and have run into a problem. I teach math at my school and while I am very interested in going to presentations on topics that are applicable in all disciplines … I would like to also attend some sessions that deal specifically with technology integration in mathematics. I am having a very hard time locating sessions that deal with math at this conference – they seem to be missing (thus the title of this entry.)

He (or she) has found only two sessions at this national/international technology conference that explicitly apply to math.

  • Technology and Mathematics: The Right Angle
  • The Art of Math: Cleveland Museum of Art Math Resources

This got me to thinking — because in the early days of personal computers in the classroom, these almost unapproachable machines were seen as the exclusive purview of Math teachers.

So what happened?  Why are we not spending as much time creating math applications for these almost exclusively mathematical devices?  This is the question that has been popping up in my thoughts ever since.   And it occurred to me this morning — because computers have changed.  They are no longer seen as computing machines, but instead, they have become media machines.  They are not about crunching numbers (though they’re stilled used for that).  Our cultural view of computers today is about machines that help us find, enjoy, mix, and make media — information-rich experiences.

But there are new possibilities for Math teachers — and once again,  I wish I’d known about this nine months ago when we were submitting our NECC proposals.  What’s got my head spinning (almost out of control right now) about Second Life is not so much the social and collaborative aspects as the technical workings that rest just beneath the surface, but well within our reach for study and play — scripting.

SL CodeHere is a piece of code that will move an object on any of three axis.  Apply any number of algorithms that change these numbers in desired ways, and the object can be programmed, using math, to train the object to behave like a car, or a hover craft, or an elevator, or a buzzing bee.

How much fun (not a bad word for learning) would it be to use algebra, trigonometry, calculus, whatever math you are teaching to make a virtual but working soccer-playing robot.  Fun?  Math? Could it happen?  Sorry about that.  I taught math for a year and I wasn’t very good at it.

But perhaps asking, “How might we use today’s computers to better teach math?” is actually the wrong question.  If I might be forgiven for once again stepping way off the edge here, what if the question we should be asking is,

How might we change what math teachers teach to reflect today’s computers and how they have changed the nature of information?

What do you think?


Image Citation:
Morgan Hsu, William. “Blur Milk Carton.” Williammmm’s Photostream. 18 Apr 2005. 18 May 2007 <http://flickr.com/photos/williamhsu/9839188/>.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.