Objectives: Involve underrepresented students and their teachers in computer activities for interactive exploration of mathematical ideas; create on-line resource for teachers and students everywhere
Funding: $300,000 NSF grant to the MAA
Term: Academic Years 2000-2001 and 2001-2002
Principal Investigator: James White
Launched in May, 2000, with the support of an NSF grant, Project WELCOME is a new part of the SUMMA Program. WELCOME brings together elements of three MAA program themes: academic technology, professional development, and promoting involvement of historically underrepresented groups. The general goals include:
- Developing at minority serving institutions a community of teachers who create and use interactive, computer based, explorations of mathematics
- Creating an internet library of these explorations available to teachers and students everywhere
- Promoting the use of interactive explorations in teaching mathematics
The interactive explorations are integrated environments which combine graphical, dynamical, symbolic, textual, and numerical representations of mathematical ideas and relations. Users interact with these environments in the familiar point and click idiom of internet web pages. The goal of each activity is to encourage students to experiment with some mathematical context by manipulating aspects of the environment and observing the results. The interactions are intended to be so natural that the environments take on a kind of virtual realism that brings mathematical constructs to life. This can take the form of moving and deforming geometric objects (in the style of Geometer's Sketchpad), but can also involve interacting with symbolic, logical, and numerical aspects of an environment.
A past MAA effort, the Interactive Mathematical Text Project (IMTP), demonstrated that empowering teachers to create these activities is both feasible and desirable. In particular, using software called Mathwright Author, IMTP participants (among others) have created a large number of educationally interesting and attractive explorations. A showcase of these activities is freely available at the Mathwright website. Visitors to that web site can also download free software called the Mathwright Library Player (2.1), necessary for using the activities.
One of the goals of Project WELCOME is to produce series of interactive explorations that are directly tied to specific courses. The materials that are produced by the project will be distributed at a WELCOME Library on the internet, starting in the summer or fall of 2001.
Mathematical Involvement of Underrepresented Groups
The MAA has an ongoing interest in increasing the participation in mathematics of historically underrepresented groups. Project WELCOME is founded on the belief that technology can make a contribution in this area. The Project Directors believe that interactive mathematical explorations are a particularly attractive and powerful lure to the investigation of mathematical ideas. It is hoped that this lure will help attract students who might otherwise not elect to study mathematics.
In order to bring interactive mathematical explorations to these students, WELCOME is enlisting the aid of their teachers. The Project will build a community of Mathwright developers among faculty in institutions which predominantly serve the target populations. The role of teachers in developing, as well as using, Mathwright activities is intentional and significant. For one thing, creating the activities themselves will give the teachers a greater sense of ownership, and will assure that the activities will be compatible with the instructional goals and philosophies of these teachers. There is another reason to involve teachers as developers. Presumably, the historical under-participation among some student populations reflects particular obstacles that these students face. If so, then faculty at institutions which serve these populations may have special insights about the nature of the obstacles and strategies for overcoming them. Such insights will be a valuable resource in developing Mathwright activities for Project WELCOME.
Project WELCOME has many features in common with MAA professional development programs. The faculty developers will each be teamed with an experienced Mathwright user who will serve as a mentor and collaborator. The goals of the project go beyond training new Mathwright developers. The idea is to foster a community of teachers using interactive explorations. The community will interact electronically through email and a project web page. In addition, participants will get together at national MAA meetings, where they will be encouraged to make presentations of their work. In particular, there will be several contributed paper presentations related to WELCOME at the January, 2001 meeting in New Orleans.
Each year of the project begins with a workshop for new faculty particpants and mentors. In 2000, the summer workshop was held in Seattle, and was attended by 6 new faculty developers, 4 mentors, as well as the project directors. During the 2000-2001 academic year the developer teams will work on Mathwright activities related to the classes of the new faculty developers. Work in progress will be shared at the winter 2001 math meetings, and more completed work at the summer meeting. At about the same time, a new class of faculty developers will be meet in a workshop, as mentioned earlier.
The materials that are produced by WELCOME participants will be reviewed and critiqued by an outside board of editors. Ultimately, the finished products will be distributed over the internet at a Project WELCOME website.