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The JOMA Mathlet Project - Making Better Mathlets

Author(s): 
Tom Roby

The following selection of comments from reviewers (with all specific names omitted) indicates some of the concerns that kept sites from being considered publishable in JOMA as mathlets. Keep in mind that the authors may have quite different purposes for their work than we did. All of the sites to which the comments below allude were harvested by students without having been submitted for publication in JOMA.

Many mathlets came in large collections, but reviewers often liked only a subset. This may reflect the inability of some websites to be taken out of the context of their collection, site, or course.

Not everything the students came up with was really a mathlet. Some sites' applets were not designed as teaching tools. Others replicate material that can be presented just as well in books, but the authors may have needed everything about the course to be available online.

The reviewers' comments below appear in black, underneath my summary headings in blue.

Some tools were too limited in the number or kind of inputs they could handle. Some were animations that allowed little or no room for interactivity.

  • This is a LiveMath worksheet.... The learner can modify the function in some way, but, as always happens to me with LiveMath, I kept making changes that were not allowable. [An article on LiveMath, including some excellent applets using that technology, is planned for the next issue of JOMA.]
  • This displays a movie illustrating the limit of the slopes of secant lines approaching the slope of the tangent. While it is possible to interact with it a little bit, it isn't really general enough to be worthy of inclusion.

Some applets had clunky interfaces.

  • [About a direction field applet] This applet seems to work well, but the interface is annoying. There are several different pop-up windows that could be condensed into one (or none!). I've seen other applets that do the same thing better.
  • [On several different applets] The repaint on this applet was not handled well. I don't like the layout and lack of discussion. Should have given a few more examples.
  • [On a root finder] The graph window is too small and the interface is not intuitive. Zoom in is not the inverse of zoom out (there are different centers). There are no tic marks on the graph. This has some value but is not an exemplary example.

Some applets had insufficient mathematical content.

  • [About a differential equation solving applet] This just generates a bunch of numerical data. The output is very confusing because the columns don't line up with the headings.
  • This computes the first and second derivative and graphs them. It is mainly a computational tool that is not put into any context.

Some were simply done better by other authors.

  • [On a predator-prey applet] The user is able to change some of the parameters in the predator prey model and immediately see the change in the population graphs. Other mathlets we've reviewed have done this in a more interesting way.

Some didn't fall within our definition of mathlet.

  • This is not a mathlet. It is a Maple worksheet.
  • Should be reviewed as a module.

Some failed to take appropriate advantage of technology.

  • [On a derivative calculator] This is another one that can churn out examples of computations using the limit definition of the derivative. Again, it is not a great improvement over a Schaum's outline.
  • This is just a tutorial with multiple choice questions. Not really a mathlet.
  • There is nothing innovative here. The material in the text book is simply transferred into a webpage. Included is a "dynamic" proof of the fact that absolutely convergent implies convergent. I found this to be ridiculous; the lines of the proof slid across the screen, one at a time. Why is this any different from reading the proof line-by-line from a book? The authors are not making appropriate use of the medium. I don't think this is the sort of material we want to highlight in JOMA.

Other comments:

  • [Student] None of the documentation could be read using Netscape 4.7 on a Win 98 PC. [Reviewer] That's because it was in Japanese.
  • It's a 1996 Applet -- it's not surprising that it didn't run.

Tom Roby, "The JOMA Mathlet Project - Making Better Mathlets," Loci (June 2004)

JOMA

Journal of Online Mathematics and its Applications

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