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Mathematica and Enthusiastic K–8 Teachers

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.

This sounds like a great fit for Mathematica, doesn’t it? And it has been for high school teachers for quite a while. Mathematica gives them almost endless flexibility to create slideshows or student projects that include the best graphics available, animations, nicely formatted text, or virtually any other visualization they want to try. Teachers find the interactivity and ability to change examples based on students’ real-time questions the perfect (and necessary) addition to textbooks or other static courseware.

High school teachers that did not use Mathematica found our 30 Minutes to Mathematica & Free Training program the perfect next step after the conference to get started. (Please note that 30 Minutes to Mathematica & Free Training is currently open to educators in the United States and Canada only. If you are an educator located outside of these territories, please email us to request this program.)

30 Minutes to Mathematica & Free Training

What I found most interesting at this particular NCTM conference, however, were the reactions of K–8 teachers to Mathematica 7 (specifically the Classroom Assistant Palette) and the Wolfram Demonstrations Project.

The sheer number of free interactive Demonstrations posted on the Wolfram Demonstrations Project, over 4,800 as I write this, was staggering to these K–8 teachers. Some of the more popular entries were the Fundamental Law of Fractions:

Fundamental Law of Fractions

Measuring Angles with a Protractor:

Measuring Angles with a Protractor

and Multiplication as Jumping:

Multiplication as Jumping

Do K–8 teachers want to use Mathematica the same way it is used in graduate-level physics? Definitely not.

But based on conversations at this conference, they want to use the best technology to accommodate any sort of "what if?" scenario, and they want to give their students experience with the software that they’ll use later in high school and college. And they were thrilled that more Demonstrations are posted daily!

In a university setting, Mathematica is used in a broad range of fields in a large variety of ways. The same is true in K–8 education—schools value having a tool that works well for all their different types of classes.

So the next time you talk to a teacher, even if it’s at a parent-teacher conference, make sure they know about the Wolfram Demonstrations Project, which could be the most exciting source of new ideas they’ve seen in quite a while!