Finally, Mathematica 7 is released and I can blog about it! This blog post has been sitting in my queue for several weeks now.

Last month I was at the Mathematica User Conference in Champaign, IL and got a sneak peak at Mathematica 7. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s worth upgrading for, but this is NOT one of those times.

Eric Shultz (a fellow Community College professor) did a great job of helping to design, and then presenting the new Classroom Assistant palette that is in Mathematica 7 – an interactive feature designed for ease-of-use on interactive whiteboard technology and Tablet PCs.

I’ve been frustrated trying to learn how to use Mathematica in the past because I’ve already become accustomed to choosing math options from menus (from years of using Scientific Workplace). Having to remember (or look up) code that I might only use a few times a year is just not my idea of a fun time. I’m pleased to report that the “Classroom Assistant” is actually a bit like that imaginary conscience that sits on your right shoulder. Only, Classroom Assistant is like a personal coding assistant that sits on the right side of the desktop. You choose from the menus what you want to do and it inserts the appropriate skeleton of code.

So, for all you purist coders out there, take note – it’s not that the coding has gone away, it’s just that it is now easier to begin learning what the code is, and faster to get the code for what you want to do. Since many of us learn by doing (not by reading or watching), I suspect this approach will be a big hit! One more point, coding on a tablet PC, when you are in the tablet mode, is not an option. The Classroom Assistant solves this problem too.

You can see an example of the Classroom Assistant in action here in one of the Mathematica Screencasts. The Classroom Assistant even has smart syntax that knows when you’ve already got a comma somewhere (and doesn’t add another one). If that isn’t enough, instead of the small empty boxes to fill, these are now small hint boxes that tell you what to put there. Yay!

This is one of the software packages that we are going to teach at the MCC Math & Technology workshop this year and I am really excited about it. I’m sure there is more blogging to do about this, but I fly to AMATYC tomorrow and there’s a little bit of work to do before I leave!

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