One of the great parts of my job is getting to meet all sorts of incredible people from all over the world. One of these, a math professor, is very close by to us, both geographically and professionally. Professor Jack Weiner is one of the most popular educators at the nearby University of Guelph. He is passionate about his work and it shows: he has won numerous awards, including the award for most "Popular Prof" in a national annual survey of Canadian Universities, for eight out of the last nine years.
Jack is a great advocate of Maple and has used it in his work and teaching for many many years. He’s become somewhat of a presence around the Maplesoft offices as well... You can sometimes find him hidden around a corner working on the latest version of the Mathematics Survival Kit, chatting about his dogs, discussing his latest Maple projects in the classroom, or see him pass by the window on a noontime run.
His current research project involves (in his own words) “investigating the effectiveness of state of the art technologies in mathematics education. In particular, [he is] using Maple for dynamic explorations in class and Maple TA for online testing.” This work is being applied to his Calculus I and II undergraduate classes. The idea is “to demonstrate that weekly Maple T.A. tests, properly designed and used as intended by students, result in statistically significant improvements in understanding and grades.” We at Maplesoft are looking forward to these results being published in the near future.
Recently, Jack visited us to participate in our E-Symposium Series. These webinars are led by industry professionals from some of the most prominent organizations in the world. Jack presented a session on his popular "Friday Specials": Every Friday, five minutes before the end of class, he stops the class and announces, "Pens down, books closed, it’s 'Friday Special' time!" His Friday Specials include cartoons, newspaper articles, or anything else he can find that is interesting and math-related.
One of the “Specials” he showed during this webinar was based on this letter to the editor, written back in 1981:
The winter of 1981 was relatively mild, compared to the chill of 1980 (hmm… I’m starting to feel a sense of déjà vu), and so it made sense that the writer would expect to have a lower bill that year. However, the gas company gave him some “logical” reasons why the bill was higher; unfortunately, as Jack points out, they neglected to check their math. By their explanations, he should have paid only $87.90, which is NOT equal to the $128.50 he was charged.
You can see that this has absolutely nothing to do with class, assignments, or tests; it’s just math for fun. Jack has learned that a few simple yet enjoyable diversions from the routine can make a big difference in the motivation and achievement among students.
For those of you who couldn’t attend, we’ve posted the webinar recording here on our website. It’s a truly engaging performance, and should give any teachers reading this post lots of ideas to take away, to make class more exciting and “real”.