Category: Digital Literacy

WolframAlpha: Recalculating Teaching and Learning

For at least a decade, we have had the ability to let CAS software perform computational mathematics, yet computational skills are still a large portion of the mathematics curriculum. Enter Wolfram|Alpha. Unlike traditional CAS systems, Wolfram|Alpha has trialability: Anyone with Internet access can try it and there is no cost. It has high observability: Share anything you find with your peers using a hyperlink. It has low complexity: You can use natural language input and, in general, the less you ask for in the search, the more information Wolfram|Alpha tends to give you. Diffusion of innovation theories predict that these features of Wolfram|Alpha make it likely that there will be wide-spread adoption by students. What does this mean for math instructors? This could be the time for us to reach out and embrace a tool that might allow us to jettison some of the computational knowledge from the curriculum, and give math instructors greater flexibility in supplemental topics in the classroom. Wolfram|Alpha could help our students to make connections between a variety of mathematical concepts. The curated data sets can be easily incorporated into classroom examples to bring in real-world data. On the other hand, instructors have valid concerns about appropriate use of Wolfram|Alpha. Higher-level mathematics is laid on a foundation of symbology, logic, and algebraic manipulation. How much of this “foundation” is necessary to retain quantitative savvy at...

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What we’re doing with WolframAlpha

Originally, I started this post with the title “What I’m doing with Wolfram|Alpha” and then I revised it, because it’s not just me using Wolfram|Alpha. My students are using it too. Here are some of the things we’re doing: Discussion Boards: Wolfram|Alpha + Jing = Awesome Before Wolfram|Alpha, it could take several steps to get a graph or the solution to solving an equation to the discussion board in an online class. You had to use some program to generate the graph or the equations, then make a screenshot of the work, then get that hyperlink, image, or embed code to the discussion board. With Wolfram|Alpha, sometimes a simple link suffices. Suppose, for example, I needed to explain the last step in a calculus problem where the students have to find where there is a horizontal tangent line. After finding the derivative, they have to set it equal to zero and solve the equation (and calculus students notoriously struggle with their algebra skills). Rather than writing out all the steps to help a student on the discussion board, I could just provide the link to the solution and tell them to click on “Show Steps.” Sometimes, a bit more explanation may be required, and in these circumstances, Jing + Wolfram|Alpha really comes in handy. For instance, I needed to show how to reflect a function over the line y=1....

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Transforming Math for Elementary Ed

After several months alone to think about why education has become so transactional, I decided that I’d have to “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk” and so I set about revamping my own classes.  For several weeks, my brain processors whirled while I tried to figure out how to make courses that have a highly structured and full curricula into courses that are transformational and revolve around learning.  Eventually, I hit upon the solution: Learning Projects.  Each student in Math for Elementary Teachers (MathET, as I like to call it) has to do five learning projects during the semester: Writing a Learning Blog Building a Mindmap Giving an Inquiry-Based Learning Presentation in class Creating a Video for the Internet Creating a Digital Portfolio to house their projects (this will be done by everyone last) We cover four “units” in MathET, and each student completes the first four learning projects in a random pre-assigned order (I made a chart of all project assignments at the beginning of the semester).  This means that at any time, 25% of the students are blogging, 25% are building mindmaps, 25% are working on a 10-minute presentation for class, and 25% are building a video on a specific topic.  Projects are due two days before the unit exam so that everyone can learn from reading and clicking through each others’ projects. No...

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Digital Age Bootcamp

I’m about to teach a few new courses here at Muskegon Community College.  It’s taught out of the Continuing Ed Department and they are part of a program we’re calling “Digital Age Bootcamp.” Even if you don’t live anywhere near enough to the Muskegon area to take it, you might be interested in the content and in beginning a similar course at your college.  The program is designed to help people who are already working professionals to “catch up” with technology. Digital AgeBoot Camp You know how to use the basics (document software, spreadsheet software, and presentation software), but now there’s all this other web-based technology that’s being used in business and education.  If you’re feeling like technology has left you behind, or you’re starting to feel like your employees may know more about technology than you do, these sessions are designed to get you caught up. Organize Your Digital Self: In these sessions, you will learn how to harness the power of the web to find and organize information, collaborate easily with your colleagues, use social media effectively and safely, communicate online, get control of your email, generally use technology to organize yourself and streamline your workflow.  In each session we’ll have time to play hands-on with the technologies of the day.  Everyone should leave feeling more comfortable with today’s web tools. Internet Query and Link Management Websites...

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Technology Skills We Should Be Teaching in College

This is a follow-up to my recent research about Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age.  I’ve spent considerable time thinking about how to alter the classes I teach to re-center them on a core of flexible learning.  In all of my classes this semester, students will be completing a variety of learning projects that involve alternative ways to learn (e.g. blogging, making mindmaps, teaching a lesson, making a video presentation, or designing a non-digital game). The difficult part about including these alternative learning methods is teaching the students all the necessary technology skills first.  Most of my students...

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