Slow play in the numbers game

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
Ian Wilson finds a shortage of fresh maths resources on the Net

The mushrooming of the World Wide Web in the past year does not seem to have produced a commensurate increase in sites and resources for the maths classroom.

The Mathematical Association (MA), the Association of Teachers of Mathematics (ATM) and the National Council for Educational Technology continues to have pages well worth looking at. But where are the publishers and the schools sharing ideas from their teachers and pupils? There are some, but we are a long way from a productive dialogue.

One of the best sites is run by the Shell Centre for Mathematical Education at Nottingham University. This has links not only to mathematical education, such as the ATM and lists of UK mathematics departments, but also to sources of ideas for teachers and pupils.

For teachers, these include the Maths Archive WWW Server in the United States and lessons from Susan Boone. The latter suggestions cover a wide range of mathematics and a recent sample included problems on flooring, pizza and racing.

Also on the Shell "other sites" page are facts about the numbers in today's date, cartoons, and a link suggesting ways of using photographs to explore maths. But be warned: this last page can take a long time to load because of the high graphics content.

A recent addition is a link to the site which contains a complete listing of the UK lottery winning numbers. There is a tentative suggestion from the Shell Centre that this might be a useful mathematics resource. In statistics investigations, it might show pupils just how low are their chances of winning the jackpot.

MicroMath is the journal of the ATM devoted to discussion of ways of using information technology in mathematics and it now has its own Web page. Much of the material is from recent issues of the magazine, but teachers who have not seen them will find some good idea sources here.

There are many US sites which deal with mathematics education. A simple search using Netscape yielded more than 200, so you will probably need to be specific when supplying keywords.

A common description is "K-12", that is, from kindergarten to 12th grade. One of the best is the Cornell Theory Center Math and Science Gateway. This has links to a wonderful variety of sources of ideas and of interactive pages. The "gateway" page is divided into several areas, including geometry, fractals, Math magic, Ask Dr Math, History of Mathematics (based at St Andrews, Scotland) and MegaMath.

The geometry pages include some high-level material, but the fractals should be accessible to most A-level students and include some interactive pages which allow you to vary the starting conditions for a Mandelbrot set.

The MegaMath site is excellent, containing some interesting and challenging material which, in my experience, pupils find very absorbing. The content changes fairly often, and recently included puzzles and problems on ice cream and knots, and a graph game.

The Cornell gateway also provides access to an American mathematical challenge competition but maybe they would not be too keen on schools across the pond muscling in.

Of course there are challenges in the UK which are run on a national "pen and paper" basis, but isn't there scope over here for one on the Net which would provide almost instant feedback, or where students could propose questions for the next hurdle or where knockout competitions could be played at a distance? Similarly, a British Dr Math, who tries to help pupils on-line with their maths problems, would be welcome.

There are several sites which deal with software, both free and commercially available. The Shell page, for example, has Copyu, a graph program, while Cornell has links to MathPlus and MathCad among others. Help is provided for users of the packages, and ideas for using them in the classroom are also often to be found.

Finally, there is a US site (accessible through Cornell) devoted to Pi, at which we are assured participants engage in a special dance at 3.14pm each day.

I regret to tell you that I have been unable to verify this, since I forgot about the time differences when trying to log on. Back to the geography classroom for me.

* Shell Centre: http:acorn.educ.nottingham.ac.ukShellCent * NCET: http:ncet.csv.warwick.ac.uk * Mailing lists: www.dcs.aber.ac.uk-jjwOReportslist rep.html * MicroMath: http:www.kcl.ac.ukkisschoolseducationResources * Cornell: http:www.tc.cornell.edu * MegaMath: http:www.c3.lanl.govmega-math * History of maths: http:www-groups.dcs.st and.ac.uk history

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