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Mathematica Teacher's Edition.

MATHEMATICA TEACHER'S EDITION. Wolfram Research (100 Trade Center Dr., Champaign, IL 61820-7237;; 800-WOLFRAM). Windows 95/98/Me/ NT/2000/XP, Mac OS or OS X; 165MB disk space, 32MB RAM, CD-ROM drive. 2 CD-ROM disks, user's guide. $195.00. A

This is the latest in a series of products based on Mathematica, the well-known computer mathematics software from Wolfram Research. It bundles the Mathematica software with three additional capabilities: 1) a tool for generating problems and quizzes, 2) some demo material, and 3) some secondary school courseware. For those unfamiliar with Mathematica, it provides extensive support for doing mathematics on a computer, including graphing, computer algebra, symbolic calculus and an extremely extensive library of functions and add-on packages. It also provides its own programming language, enabling users to extend the systems capabilities. Like other powerful mathematics software systems, there is a fairly steep learning curve for new users, but once over this hurdle there is little that can't be done in Mathematica.

The Teacher's Edition includes a problem generator with an easy-to-use interface. I was able to generate a worksheet of simple linear equation problems (such as would be suitable for a high school algebra class) without learning the full Mathematica command language. The problem generator can vary the parameters of problems on a sheet and can also generate an answer key. The downside is that the problems included in this release are quite limited in scope, and there is no way to extend the types of problems that also make use of the varying parameters and answer key generation capabilities. The Algebra, Trigonometry, and Mathematics (AT&M) courseware included with the Teacher's Edition (and also available separately from Wolfram Research) is much more interesting. This courseware was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Western Kentucky University and is part of the Interactive Mathematics Text Project. Some teachers may be familiar with Calculus & Mathematica, one of the early interactive texts initially developed by Jerry Uhl and Horacio Porta, and AT&M follows in its footsteps. In a traditional text (either a book or electronic form), the student reads the text and then works problems separately. In an interactive text, there are examples embedded in the electronic text for the student to experiment with, and the student uses the capabilities of Mathematica to solve problems in-line. This enables and encourages the students to "do math" while they are studying the text and is suitable for individual or small group work. AT&M lets students explore mathematical concepts, but in such a way that thinking is a must (i.e., the computer doesn't do all the work for the students, just some of the tedious work). Of course, skill development is still a critical part of any secondary school mathematics curriculum, but AT&M provides an interesting new approach to increase deeper understanding of mathematics.

The Teacher's Edition also includes a selection of demonstrations on a variety of secondary school mathematics topics, from pre-algebra to calculus, developed by high school teachers. These provide useful insights into the possibilities of using Mathematica in the classroom and may be directly useful as classroom demonstrations (projected on a screen) or for students to work through in groups. There is also a wide variety of Mathematica material available on the Web and from Wolfram Research.

In summary, Mathematica is one of the premier mathematics software packages available, and Wolfram has made versions that are much more affordable for schools than the full-priced product. While the problem generator in Mathematica Teacher's Edition is not yet as useful as it could be, the AT&M courseware that is bundled in is quite interesting and is definitely worth looking at for schools considering the purchase of software like Mathematica. Thomas Downey, Math Teacher, Rivers School, Weston, MA
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Author:Downey, Thomas J.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
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