What’s the likelihood of stumbling across two kickin’ applications on astronomy in one day? Apparently, pretty good.

The first application I saw was released on TED Talks this week – a program called Worldwide Telescope – and an application by Microsoft (if you can believe that). The application must run on the same software platform as Photosynth (Seadragon). Worldwide Telescope will eventually be housed on the Internet at http://www.worldwidetelescope.org/ (not much there to see yet).

The second application is called Google Sky (launched today). This application has the advantage of being “live” right now. So you can go play immediately, zooming and panning through the sky in the same way you navitage in Google Maps.

If you haven’t seen Photosynth yet (previewed to a stunned audience last at TED last year), it’s an amazing application of trigonomety, the Internet, and computing power (view the TED Talk on Photosynth here and go to the Photosynth website here where you can try out a “preview” of Photosynth).

Apparently, I now have a feature series (like Technology Reviews) called “Today I want to be a …” (I figure four blog posts by the same title is a series). The previous posts in the series are:

I know that Pi-Day is tomorrow, and I should be excited to be celebrating a math holiday, but honestly I feel a little down. Where are the cool “explorer-style” applications for mathematics? Is the TI N-Spire supposed to do it for me when I’m comparing it to stuff like this? This is exactly the kind of feeling that led me to get three degrees as an undergraduate (math, chemistry, and biology … thanks for asking). Math, even with the cool applications that we have available to us today, is simply not as engaging at the lower levels as the sciences. I doubt very much that students go to Wolfram Demonstrations to “explore” concepts. Nobody logs in to MyMathLab, WebAssign or WebWorks just to “play” with the mathematics they are learning.

  • Maybe Wolfram can create an interactive galaxy of Wolfram Demonstrations (similar to Jonathan Harris’ Universe), where the “constellations” are mapped out through similar topics connecting the WDs or a TED-style interface for browsing? Only let’s just make all the demos “live” and not hidden behind a download and player.
  • Maybe Apple can make a touch screen calculator capable of graphing in COLOR with easy zoom and pan options at the touch of a finger and functionality for exploration where every option isn’t buried under a series of 5 menus (hey – if they can put EA’s game Spore on that phone, it’s certainly not out of reach).
  • Maybe the monotony of algebra and precalculus can be absorbed by an online virtual world where students learn through puzzles and concept-oriented games (sorry DimensionM – I’ve played you, and you’re just not ready for the College crowd – too much game, not enough content).
  • Maybe math teachers should act as roving content instructors – showing up at science, business, and computer classes to conduct “just in time” math teaching and working with other instructors to seamlessly integrate content into the rest of the curriculum.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m tired of longing for the great educational tools available in other fields. If we all push together, maybe by NEXT pi day, I’ll have something more exciting than pi to be excited about! All together now … let’s push our way into the 21st century with the power of Web 2.0.

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