Friday, November 24, 2006


See comments for review.

1 comment:

Catherine said...

The creators of Maple claim that it is “the ultimate productivity tool for solving mathematical problems”. The idea is that Maple allows the user to visualize complicated and often abstract concepts thus allowing them to better understand the ideas. In addition it can be used much like a graphing calculator, though it is much more powerful than your everyday calculator and can solve complex systems. The creators also advertise that Maple documents “seamlessly combine numeric and symbolic calculations, explorations, mathematical notation, documentation, buttons and sliders, graphics, and animations”. Basically, it does a whole lot of stuff.
However, the mere fact that it can do so much tends to imply that it is difficult to become Maple savvy. With so many options the software becomes complicated. For Maple 9 you have to use code in order to do anything. While there is an extensive “help” section to look up how to do things, it can still be difficult to do even the simplest integration. When I took Calculus III in college we used Maple to view ellipsoids and other three dimensional objects that are normally difficult to visualize. It was great being able to actually see what it was I was triple integrating. Recently I tried to go back and re-create some of the shapes I had worked with before and realized how difficult it really is to work with Maple. What my professor (or more likely a TA) had done was to create the document with certain settings to make it more user-friendly. All we had to do was hit enter a bunch of times and then follow some quasi-simple steps in order to do the lab. Unfortunately creating this document seems to be the difficult part.
Please note that this was all done on Maple 9, they have since come out with Maple 10 with new so called “easy to use” features. I don’t know for sure, but they claim you can “enter, solve, and explore your mathematics without complicated commands or programming”. If this is true then it’s good news for anyone looking for a visualization tool, because the old ones definitely were not effective without “complicated commands”.
In order for Maple to be used in a classroom, either every student must be capable of programming and take a crash-course on Maple code, or the professor needs to be knowledgeable enough with Maple to make these documents. Because of these requirements, Maple is not recommended for use in grades K-12 but rather for higher education. For grades K-12 a graphing calculator like the TI-89 is more than sufficient. The visualizations needed for Calculus II and higher are much better in Maple, as long as someone knows how to use it.
Accessing Maple is easy…if you are a student and have $80 to spare. For the student package all you need is the internet to download it, or pay an extra $20 to have it shipped. Not a student? You can buy the full version of Maple 10 for a mere $1000, and the prices go up from there. Maple 7 through 10 works on most Windows platforms, but to see if it will work for you, check out their website:
While a great way to visualize complex mathematics, the older versions of Maple are difficult to use. Maplesoft claims to have remedied this problem in their latest version, but that is still to be decided. If you are in college and want to have a better sense of the triple integration you are trying to do, dropping $80 on the new software and maybe $30 on a good study guide may help you get the grade, just be ready to spend some time navigating the software before you jump into a complex problem. As an educator, the software is more expensive, but if you are able to create documents or explicit directions for students to follow, it may be a handy tool to help them learn. Maple is a nice idea and can do what it says it can do, but is less than user-friendly and expensive.

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