Under Construction: Interactive Geometry Resources

Are your pupils exploring geometry? Do you have an interactive whiteboard or wireless slate? If so, you’ll want to take a look at two very useful FREE programs that I’ve been sharing that make learning mathematics an engaging experience. Over the weekend, I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend and present at the 2009 Math & Science Summit Conference in Liberty County, Georgia. While I was there, I shared interactive math resources with the system’s high school teachers.

During the course of my presentation, I introduced the teachers in attendance to one of my favorite freebies, a program called GeoGebra. This spiffy tool for thinking helps students create constructions with all the necessary components: points, segments, lines, vectors, and functions. thanks to its dynamic interface, GeoGebra allows users to directly enter and manipulate equations and coordinates. You can download the program or use its Webstart feature. My audience at the Math & Science Summit Conference also appreciated the GeoGebraWiki. It’s a growing repository of all kinds of free teaching materials using GeoGebra.


C.a.R. is another free resource that I shared with my attendees. This application is useful for generating dynamic geometric compass and ruler constructions on a computer. Thanks to the digital nature of the displays created with C.a.R., constructions can easily be altered by simply dragging one of the basic construction points. Like GeoGebra, there is a Java Webstart edition of C.a.R. that is always up to date with the most recent program version. Imagine students discussing and demonstrating their constructions using an interactive whiteboard.


Related resources:

  • GraphCalc is an open source and GPLed computer program that runs in Microsoft Windows and Linux that provides the functionality of a graphing calculator. I like this program.
  • MatheGrafix is a program for drawing, presentation and printing graphs of functions.

I’ve Got Your Number

If you teach elementary mathematics, stop what you’re doing and drop by the flash-powered Ptolemy Primitives page. You’ll be glad you did. Designed by Alec McEachran, a math teacher/software developer, this impressive web-based resource gives students an engaging means of visualizing the structure of numbers, in the context of their prime factors. For even more mathematical musings, read Alec’s blog.


Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime: Common Good Forecaster

What if the educational outcomes in your community were better? In what ways would life be enhanced for students and citizens in the town, city, or community where you live? Would augmented education lead to better jobs, improved health, fewer crimes, increased participation in civic duties such as voting? Think about this:  a survey conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America found that adults with the lowest education levels tend to have the worst health.

The American Human Development Project (of the Social Science Research Council) and the United Way have teamed up to bring you the Common Good Forecaster, a resource that predicts what happens when there’s a signifigant improvement in educational attainment levels within a given community.


Related links:

  • While we’re on the topic of the blessings of a better quality of life, consider taking a peak at the Well-O-Meter. This nifty web-based resource will give you a better idea of your level of human development.
  • Do we really understand what it takes to improve the quality of life where we live? Instead of stressing over the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to measure progress in our society, maybe we should consider using the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). The GPI was developed by Redefining Progress, a public policy organization dedicated to sustainability (now there’s an idea for improving qulaity of life).
  • Finally, take a gander at Mercer’s 2009 Quality of Living Survey highlights. This intriguing report “identifies the cities with the best infrastructure based on electricity supply, water availability, telephone and mail services, public transport provision, traffic congestion and the range of international flights from local airports.

Can We Fix It? Yes, We Can!–Fantastic Contraption

Physics teachers:
If Chemistry teachers can encourage their pupils to use interactive technology resources to gain a better understanding of Science-related content, so can you. For example, send your students to Fantastic Contraption. It’s a fun, online Physics puzzle game that’s positively addictive. While learners are trying to master the game, they’ll be much more receptive to content-specific facts. Enjoy!

Hidden Treasures

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to work with a generous group of educators here in southeast Georgia. All of the gracious folks in my audience were in attendance in order to learn how to make better use of a Promethean Activboard. Those attending my day-long presentation were very excited at the prospect of finally discovering how to employ a technology resource that had essentially been sitting idle in their respective classrooms. My attendees, like many other educators I work with on a daily basis, had been given a powerful tool for teaching and learning but, due to a lack of funding for professional development and/or an administrative oversight, found themselves waiting for an explanation as to how the device worked or could be integrated into instruction.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens with far more frequency than should be tolerated. In many ways, it’s tantamount to making a delivery to overworked doctors in the middle of an epidemic, leaving them with an incredibly powerful medical tool for combating illness, and subsequently giving them absolutely no information about what the tool is, how it can be used, or the kinds of results it will generate. In such a scenario, most doctors concerned with treating the immediate needs of their patients would probably toss the new tool aside in favor of doing what they already know to do. Administrators, teachers, and other educators are no different. We can supply them with unbelievably powerful resources and expect improvements. Without the accompanying professional development, however, it’s unlikely that anything–either teaching practices or student achievement–is going change for the better.
Thankfully, though, the individuals I worked with yesterday were thirsty for knowledge about using their interactive whiteboards. I was only too happy to oblige. I took them through the basics of using the Activboard, facilitating their exploration of its robust tools and resource library. They loved the features of the interactive whiteboard and its software. Many were somewhat distraught that such an engaging tool for learning had been at their fingertips all along and they hadn’t even realized it. I did my best to help them make up for lost time.
During the 8 hours we spent together I tried to help my audience gain a deeper understanding of the incredible potential for using interactive whiteboards to make concepts, processes, and skills more visiual and doable. In addition to directing them to Promethean Planet, I showed them all manner of free, interactive resources (Thinkfinity.org, a list of Thinkfinity “WOW” sites, Exploratorium and it’s favorite picks, et cetera) and repositories for content-specific pictures. “It’s not enough to lecture about a topic or concept,” I explained, “You’ve got access to a tool for helping your pupils create a clearer mental image of what you’re exploring in your classroom. Even if you choose not to make use of your Activstudio software, you can still use imagery to engage your students and help them latch onto an idea.
Afterward, one of my participants explained that even though she had an Activboard, others at here school did not. “Are there any more projectors and other interactive whiteboards–not necessisarily Promethean–at your school?” I asked, betting I’d hear a familiar response. Sure enough, the lady responded, “Yes, we do have other projectors. They’re in the media center but no one ever checks them out. We also have some other kind of interactive whiteboard but it doesn’t have an Activpen with it like mine does so the other teachers aren’t sure they can use it.”
Hmmm,” I said, “I’ll bet it’s a SMARTBoard,” and I asked her to describe the board. After listening to her description there was no doubt in my mind that such was the case. I explained how she and others at her school could be using the newest, resource-rich SMARTBoard software with their old SMARTBoards. The lady was delighted and quickly opened her cell phone to call her school and share the good news.

On a recent trip in one school, a school with a desire to improve student math performance, I just happened to stumble across an unopened pack of resources from a great series called Math Exemplars. It’s a program that (when implemented properly) successfully addresses student engagement and performance in math classes. It helps students become masterful problem-posers and solvers. Here was a school struggling with math and not using a resource that would help the pupil. When I asked why the folks there had no idea what Math Exemplars were or what to do with them.

I wonder how many unused technology resources are lying around in classrooms and media centers because no one knows what all the stuff is or how to use it? Why not take a look around in your own school and see what you turn up when you do. You might be surprised.

Sand Sans Sand

Whether you teach Art or Geology, you’ll find thisissand.com worth a visit. It’s a site that is artistically cerebral. Why? It allows visitors to engage in cyber-sand painting. Don’t be surprised if all you see is an apparent blank, grey screen when you visit the site. Just press and hold your left-mouse button for a little while and watch what happens. Click on the tiny square in the upper left-hand corner and access these instructions:

A glimpse at the gallery that accompanies the site is likely to whet anyone’s appetite for playing with this intriguing tool for self-expression. How could this site be used in a classroom? Teachers and students studying Art could combine thisissand.com with a traditional lesson related to sand painting, thereby allowing learners to demonstrate synthesis (from Dr. Benjamin Bloom‘s well-known Taxonomy of Educational Objectives) in a surprising pleasing manner.

For pupils in a Science or Social Studies classroom, thisissand.com would be useful for exploring sedimentary rocks, earth science, geology and similar topics. Paired with Landcraft and other resources, thisissand.com would wow students and open up a rich discussion about how the face of our planet is changed by natural forces.