I could write a very long blog about free mathematics software, but don’t really need to as someone else has done it for me a couple of years ago:
Antonio Cangiano omits my personal favourite – Geogebra. In my view, this is one of the best pieces of mathematical software around. It’s great for five main reasons:
- It works well, combining aspects of graphing, computer algebra and dynamic geometry software into one piece of software.
- It’s easy to use. The helpful quickstart guide is particularly good.
- Based on Java, it works on all platforms.
- You can create stand-alone dynamic worksheets.
- It’s free!
With the demise of Derive, Geogebra seems to have gained a lot of ground in UK schools recently. There seems to be a growing online community of Geogebra users – their teaching resources wiki is very useful.
Much of the research concerning attitudes to mathematics suggests that pupils and teachers are generally negative about the subject. One of the most startling pieces of research I have come across is that of Picker and Berry (2000). They asked children from five countries to draw pictures of mathematicians.
One of the resulting images, drawn by a 12 year old US pupil, shows a male mathematician, with stained and torn clothing, “bad body posture”, “wrinkles from thinking too hard” and “fat from doing nothing but math”.
Key findings from this study include:
- Mathematicians are perceived as male (with the exception, in the UK, of Carol Vorderman – TV Presenter of a mathematics component of the British quiz programme, “Countdown”). In Sweden and Romania no pupil of either gender drew a female mathematician.
- When asked what mathematicians do, many children were unable to provide an answer.
- Images of mathematicians are overwhelmingly negative – depicted as over-worked people with no fashion sense, unable to form personal-relationships and often unkempt.
- Mathematicians tend to be drawn as people in power – often as authoritarian teachers, sometimes even with guns or sticks to force children to learn the subject. Similarly, the children in the pictures tend be drawn small (see below).
- Mathematicians have supernatural powers, allowing them to “do math” in their heads in front of people. Children seem to see mathematics as abstract – a subject outside their experiences, beyond their understanding and almost magical in nature.