Monday, January 29, 2007

My take on mathematical software tools for adult learners

Last Saturday, i posted my first article to Helium's user-generated article database. i found out about Helium last year when it was covered by Marshall Kirkpatrick on Techcrunch. My article on math software tools is reproduced below (slightly edited). It draws on my on-going experience as an adult self-learner engaged in a year-long calculus refresher course:
Are you a working adult seeking to improve your knowledge of essential mathematical concepts and techniques? Whether you are enrolled in a formal course or trying to teach yourself, one of the first things you need to accept is that mathematics cannot be learned simply by reading about concepts and techniques. It takes practice: the study of new concepts must go hand-in-hand with practice at applying those concepts to the solutions of problems expressed in mathematical forms.

Most adults-especially those with liberal arts or non-science educational backgrounds-are often discouraged and put off by the prospect of performing time-consuming mathematical calculations. The good news is that help is now at hand in the form of mathematical software that can handle most of the mechanical or algorithmic parts of problem-solving. One such software tool is Derive 6, which perform numeric and symbolic computations, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, and plots graphs in two and three dimensions. There are several other tools of comparable quality such as CalcCenter 3, a product of Wolfram Research.

By integrating one or more of these technologies into the process of learning mathematics, adult learners are freed to concentrate on the mathematical meaning of concepts. This in turn could dramatically shorten the time required to learn and master the applications of those concepts to real life problems, while appreciating the inherent beauty of mathematics.

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