Wolfram Computation Meets Knowledge

Wolfram Summer School


Thomas Ott

Educational Innovation

Class of 2016


Thomas is currently an upper-school mathematics teacher at Sidwell Friends School in Washington DC. He has a master’s in physics from Florida State University and spent time working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the material science division before becoming a teacher. He’s been an upper-school math teacher for four years, and previously taught in Savannah, Georgia.

Project: Developing Materials to Supplement Classroom Learning in Mathematics

Connecting the mechanics of mathematics to a deeper understanding of the course material can often be a challenge. Students’ understanding of the process for solving an equation can be perfect, but they may not understand what they are solving for or why. Visual supplemental material, mainly graphs, can allow the students to see what they are doing and also allow for a more thorough understanding of the topic. Unfortunately, the current technology being used in classrooms mainly consists of TI calculators that use an antiquated technology, and students struggle to understand how to operate them.

The ability to have dynamic interactions that the students can use on a multitude of devices will allow for them to truly explore the topics that are being discussed in class. Allowing them to alter the parameters of a problem with dynamic sliders is much more in line with the technology that they use on a regular basis. Creating a library of notebooks that will allow students to have a visual supplement to the material discussed in class will serve to help solidify their understanding and deepen the discussions in class.

Deciding the best way to deploy the supplemental material is a challenge. Whether the materials are deployed via cloud-based notebooks or embedded CDFs is worth further exploration. The ability for students to use any device to manipulate the graphs and demonstrations will allow for greater access and hopefully more widespread use of the material. The project will culminate in a variety of individual notebooks or CDFs that will allow the students to further explore a topic in the classroom or on their own time. The hope is to have a fair number of similarly designed deployments for the students to use throughout the school year. Hopefully the collection of materials will continue to grow and will allow for a number of activities for each course taught. There is a further option to slowly introduce students to the coding aspect of the Wolfram Language, but that would be at a later time.