When I first read the description online I was enthusiastic about the possibility of using this software to create equality in education, which is what it claims to do. SimCalc designs projects “dedicated to democratizing access to Mathematics of Change and Variation, including ideas underlying Calculus”. They go on to say how every child no matter their race, gender, ethnic origin, or economic level must have the opportunity to learn calculus starting with the basics at a young age. They aim to do this by “using techniques that tap into kids’ natural abilities”. The Mathworlds software claims to do this by drawing off of real and imagined worlds and building upon students’ strengths”. This image of a cure-all for ineaulity is tantalizing, however, once I began trying to use the software, I was disappointed by the low quality and difficulty of use.

The software is free so I suppose I should not have expected much in the way of quality. The graphics are limited and the many windows could be difficult to navigate. There is a World which portrays actors moving in some way, in the one I tried two fish were racing. There is a window for the world, one for the graphs on the coordinate plane, one for the function of each actor’s motion, and one for a table of points. The graphs often do not even fit on the page, and scrolling is not an option, you must move the coordinate grid if you want to see more of the graph. If you can get over the fact that the program is not aesthetically pleasing you then have to figure out what the students are supposed to learn and then get them there.

In the first world I played with it for half an hour before I finally found the objective. Several times I had messed up the activity so badly that my little actors disappeared and I had to restart the program in order for things to work again. Once I finally found the objective (if you are still looking it in Tools->Notepad) it was very brief but did at least say what to do. Once I thought I met the objective, I was hoping it would say “Congratulations!” and move me on to the next world, but I was again disappointed. While I am 99% positive that I completed the objective, I was never told whether I was correct, and was never able to move on to another world.

Did I learn anything about math or calculus from using the program? No. The only reason I was at all successful with the software is because I already do know quite a bit of math and calculus. I do not think that a student would be able to learn through Mathworlds, although maybe I am underestimating the “natural abilities” of students that SimCalc assumes. This is unfortunate since there is such a great need to equalize education, but we will have to keep searching for more effective methods.

If you would like to try it out for yourself, it is free and available at http://www.simcalc.umassd.edu/software/. All you need is the internet and a PC running Windows 2000 or better and Sun's Java 1.4 or better, or a Mac running MacOS 10.4 with the latest updates. Even if the software was effective, SimCalc is also assuming that every impoverished or minority students as the internet and a computer which they can use the software on.

While a courageous goal, SimCalc Mathworlds is not going to equalize education or even democratize access. Even if all students could use it, the software is too clumsy and confusing to be effective in teaching the underlying ideas of calculus.

## 2 comments:

When I first read the description online I was enthusiastic about the possibility of using this software to create equality in education, which is what it claims to do. SimCalc designs projects “dedicated to democratizing access to Mathematics of Change and Variation, including ideas underlying Calculus”. They go on to say how every child no matter their race, gender, ethnic origin, or economic level must have the opportunity to learn calculus starting with the basics at a young age. They aim to do this by “using techniques that tap into kids’ natural abilities”. The Mathworlds software claims to do this by drawing off of real and imagined worlds and building upon students’ strengths”. This image of a cure-all for ineaulity is tantalizing, however, once I began trying to use the software, I was disappointed by the low quality and difficulty of use.

The software is free so I suppose I should not have expected much in the way of quality. The graphics are limited and the many windows could be difficult to navigate. There is a World which portrays actors moving in some way, in the one I tried two fish were racing. There is a window for the world, one for the graphs on the coordinate plane, one for the function of each actor’s motion, and one for a table of points. The graphs often do not even fit on the page, and scrolling is not an option, you must move the coordinate grid if you want to see more of the graph. If you can get over the fact that the program is not aesthetically pleasing you then have to figure out what the students are supposed to learn and then get them there.

In the first world I played with it for half an hour before I finally found the objective. Several times I had messed up the activity so badly that my little actors disappeared and I had to restart the program in order for things to work again. Once I finally found the objective (if you are still looking it in Tools->Notepad) it was very brief but did at least say what to do. Once I thought I met the objective, I was hoping it would say “Congratulations!” and move me on to the next world, but I was again disappointed. While I am 99% positive that I completed the objective, I was never told whether I was correct, and was never able to move on to another world.

Did I learn anything about math or calculus from using the program? No. The only reason I was at all successful with the software is because I already do know quite a bit of math and calculus. I do not think that a student would be able to learn through Mathworlds, although maybe I am underestimating the “natural abilities” of students that SimCalc assumes. This is unfortunate since there is such a great need to equalize education, but we will have to keep searching for more effective methods.

If you would like to try it out for yourself, it is free and available at http://www.simcalc.umassd.edu/software/. All you need is the internet and a PC running Windows 2000 or better and Sun's Java 1.4 or better, or a Mac running MacOS 10.4 with the latest updates. Even if the software was effective, SimCalc is also assuming that every impoverished or minority students as the internet and a computer which they can use the software on.

While a courageous goal, SimCalc Mathworlds is not going to equalize education or even democratize access. Even if all students could use it, the software is too clumsy and confusing to be effective in teaching the underlying ideas of calculus.

References were from www.simcalc.umassd.edu

SimCalc MathWorlds can now be obtained at www.kaputcenter.umassd.edu/products/software/

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