June 4, 2009 — Kelvin Mischo, Sales Engineer

I just visited Washington, DC, and I find myself returning with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. Did this have something to do with the progression from mild rain to what could be the first sunny, summer days of the year? Or seeing the nation’s capitol in person?

Partially, yes. But the larger factor was attending the 2009 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Conference, and, you guessed it, talking about Mathematica and mathematics education for several days!

NCTM Annual Meeting & Exposition

I’ve attended five NCTM conferences over my ten years with Wolfram Research, and I always find the teachers’ enthusiasm contagious. They constantly look for new ways to inspire their students, while at the same time building a strong foundation in mathematics. Teachers usually have clever ways to share information and spend countless hours trying new ideas and new presentation styles.

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April 28, 2009 — Kathy Bautista, Academic Program Manager

Mathematica has long been used by university-level faculty and researchers for work in math, physics, engineering, and many other fields. Good at everything from creating class documents and lab assignments to analyzing and visualizing data collected during experiments, Mathematica has become the software of choice for millions of academic researchers, faculty, and students because it is an all-in-one system that combines powerful computing and visualization capabilities with sophisticated documentation and presentation tools.

But in my years of working with universities as Wolfram Research’s Academic Program Manager, I’ve come to realize that many students who will become future high school teachers aren’t using Mathematica in their math and science education classes. Why is that? Some have told me that they heard somewhere along the line that Mathematica was too difficult to learn and use. Others had assumed that it was too powerful for their needs, or not completely applicable to the subjects they would be teaching. But those that do take a closer look at Mathematica are usually amazed by what they see.

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April 14, 2009 — Michael Morrison, Academic Relationship Executive

Each release of Mathematica brings with it powerful new tools that can be applied to an ever-widening range of fields, so it’s no surprise that a great many faculty members at all levels choose Mathematica as the tool around which to base their curricula. My first introduction to the software came during my undergraduate education when I took a differential equations course. As my professor went through the syllabus and explained what topics we would cover that semester, she also mentioned that we would be using Mathematica and showed some examples of what it could do.

Having never used mathematical technology more sophisticated than a graphing calculator, I did admittedly have a bit of a rocky start with the language and syntax. I remember my professor spending a lecture period going over the basics of how to enter input and perform computations, but I decided to dismiss all that advice and just figure it out myself—which seemed to be a good idea at the time. I probably should have paid closer attention to my professor’s tutorial, because I soon became frustrated at what seemed like a very rigid language. As I investigated further—mostly by looking at all the examples in the documentation—I quickly realized that by learning a few simple rules one could effectively harness the program and produce powerful results. Ultimately it was Mathematica‘s consistent language design that got me excited about learning more.

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April 3, 2009 — Cliff Hastings, Director of Academic Initiatives

Recently, I was in Puerto Rico giving Mathematica talks to faculty and students within the University of Puerto Rico and Inter American University of Puerto Rico system. First off, I loved the islands and the weather. Second, the people were enthusiastic, understanding of my broken Spanish, and wonderful people with whom to interact and discuss Mathematica integration.

On my flight home, I realized that it would be good to document a little bit of my experience talking with educators about integrating Mathematica into courses and how Mathematica 7 has completely changed my perspective (and uniformly, their perspective) as well.

I’ve now been at Wolfram Research almost 12 years. My experiences at the company have been quite varied. I have traversed the country in the MathMobile (see below) showing lots of people at schools, companies, and government labs how to start using Mathematica; I have sat at a desk in technical support answering questions from longtime users on how to do (and fix) pretty detailed programming; I have worked in public relations to convey to the press why Mathematica is such an important topic for them to cover.

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February 6, 2009 — Devendra Kapadia, Mathematica Algorithm R&D

Calculus has occupied a central position in scientific thought ever since its discovery by Newton and Leibniz more than 300 years ago. The combination of elegance, utility, and rigor that characterize this subject have led to its extensive use in theoretical approaches to diverse fields such as economics, finance, and biology. Indeed, calculus is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of humankind, which explains its important role in the training of students all over the world.

It has been my privilege to present a “College Calculus with Mathematica talk as part of a series of free online seminars organized by the Wolfram Education Group. Today, I would like to give you a glimpse of the seminar’s topics and write about the advantages of online instruction.

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April 8, 2008 — Daniel Lichtblau, Scientific Information Group

I would like to point to a recent member of The Wolfram Demonstrations Project: Numerical Methods for Differential Equations.

Numerical Methods for Differential Equations

It was submitted a few weeks ago, and I rather liked it because it illustrated several basic numerical approaches to solving a first-order differential equation. Without much fuss this quickly brings one into numerical analysis, approximation methods, and other polysyllabic topics important to engineering, math, and related fields.

As it was making the rounds through our review process, I received one of those phone calls that parents know all too well: the college student emergency homework appeal. I picked up the phone.

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January 22, 2008 — Theodore Gray, Co-founder, Wolfram Research, Inc; Founder, Touch Press; Proprietor, periodictable.com

I’ve been interested in education for a long time, and when someone suggests that the software system I’ve been working on for 20 years is bad for education, I take it personally.

So I was upset when a New Scientist magazine article “Physics Tool Makes Students Miss the Point”, reported on a study by Thomas Bing and Edward Redish, “Symbolic Manipulators Affect Mathematical Mindsets”, strongly implying that the study concluded that replacing paper-and-pencil calculations with Mathematica was educationally unsound.

And I was greatly relieved to find that the study itself says no such thing. Bing and Redish don’t recommend banishing Mathematica; they welcome it in their classrooms and point out many positive things about it, along with one relatively minor pitfall they suggest ways to work around.

What mindset led the reporter to jump to such a reactionary conclusion? Why use such an inflammatory headline in connection with level-headed research that showed, when you get right down to it, virtually the opposite of what the New Scientist headline says?

The question of what technology to use in the classroom comes up all the time, and the resulting debate often generates more heat than light. People feel strongly about the subject because at its heart it is a question about what it means to be human.

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August 22, 2007 — André Kuzniarek, Director of Document and Media Systems

My two high-schoolers constantly struggle with math and science. And every time I sit down to help them out, I get my own slightly sweaty flashback to my school days, reminded of how glad I am not to be dealing with homework and boring classes every day.

With all the technological distractions available to kids now, it’s hard to get them to crack a book open. On the other hand, technology also offers the means to engross modern students in their classwork.

Working on Mathematica makes that all too obvious to me, but after 17 years at Wolfram Research, I’ve been so close to and inside our development process that I’ve been taking the obvious for granted.

Sure, once in a while I check the kids’ algebra homework using Solve. But sticking a computer in front of every student in a classroom is probably not the best way to engage them as a group.

Engaging kids is going to get easier now with a combination of two things coming together, which a few of us got to preview at our recent Mathematica Publishing Day event in Oxford.

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