Just finished teaching a short course on software for use in math classes.It’s a course required for math majors, and the objective is to familiarize students with the various types of software to do math.

Way back when, like ten years ago, math software was the domain of licensed software housed in college computer labs. The usual stuff happened – the computers got updated, but the software license did not get renewed. And excuses for not using the software abounded – you could only use the software in the labs, students couldn’t afford the software for their home, etc. etc.

Fast forward to 2010. Students bring in their own laptop and WiFi is freely available. I built my software course around free or easily available software such as Wolfram|Alpha, Geogebra, and Excel. Of the three, Geogebra was quite a hit. Students could download the software for free on their own laptops or use the web based applet. And they were up and running without mastering any rarefied syntax.

Wolfram|Alpha was a close second. There was some frustration that the “natural language” interpretation of W|A was not so natural! Nevertheless, the students did find W|A to be a good tool for doing math.

Then there is the lowly spreadsheet. Found basically on every desktop, students were quite surprised you could do actual math in Excel. They used it to model data, forecast trends and examine limits and difference quotients.

I put all the course material on our campus Blackboard. I plan to transfer it to my Moodle account so that the course material is accessible to everyone.

Integrating math technology easily – no licenses, no fees, no excuses…

While Google Spreadsheet soft has much weaker math capabilities than Excel, it can still do a lot of algebra. The huge plus is that it supports collaboration and online sharing, like the rest of Google Docs.

While not directly mathematical, Prezi’s zoom and rotation capabilities support “fractal thinking” and recursion – two strong mathematical value.

I would also recommend Sitmo for writing math, or “email your math” neat converter from IntMath: http://www.intmath.com/Help/send-math-email.php Writing mathematics tends to be a big problem online.