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Welcome to the Developers' Area

Daniel Steinberg

Welcome to the mathlets developers' area. We've had a lot of fun discussing what is and isn't a mathlet and what might be some design principles for those looking to develop them. Please join in the discussion (see Discussion links above and below) by adding to, or starting your own discussion thread. Contribute an article to this section by contacting the Developers' Area Contributing Editors. This issue includes quite a few articles to spark discussion. See the bottom of the page for a possible first topic.

Contibuting editor Tom Leathrum begins an interesting series of articles that points out the mathematical benefits to be gained by developers of mathlets. Of course your goal is to provide a tool that will benefit students and other teachers. In this first article, Tom discusses interesting observations that can arise out of something as seemingly straightforward as a parabola exploration for an algebra class.

ESCOT researchers Jeremy Rochelle, Victoria Hand, and Chris DiGiano look at mathlets from the users' standpointlook at mathlets from the users' standpoint. If we are engaged in producing mathlets that we hope will be used by teachers, we should take some time to understand what they want and need. The ESCOT group characterizes the mathlet collection as a "product line". This is probably not the way mathlet developers think of their individual contributions. We don't yet see the whole into which our mathlet fits. The ESCOT researchers anticipate that future contributions will be very different from the early ones.

Contributing editor Joe Yanik presents a different set of collections. He has begun creating components called Math Beans that can be used by mathlet developers to create mathlets. As this set of components grows larger and richer, it could provide the foundation to create mathlets that feel more like they come from a coherent product line. Apple Computer recently provided a JavaBean that acts as a wrapper for the Mac OS X spell checker. Anyone writing a Java application can add spell checking capabilities to their Swing text components with two lines of code. Joe has a similar vision for mathematical applets. If you have a function and want to display its graph, there should be some sort of easy to use widget in the Math Beans collection that you can use to do so. You won't need to reinvent these building blocks for your applications. He invites others to join in the task of creating these Math Beans.

Alexander Bogomolny returns with his views on this same theme. He considers what will happen as the collection of mathlets grows larger and advocates a consistency of user interface. When the judges met last summer to select the calculus mathlets for the first edition of JOMA, we didn't consider how the entire collection of mathlets will look as a whole. Although we sometimes compared one mathlet against another with the same theme, we made no attempt to create a package of applets that would integrate well with one another. Bogolmony suggests that there will come a point when this consistency will be a real consideration.

As you read the articles, please contribute to the conversation. Join in the discussion and suggest your own articles. We are still evolving the concept of a mathlet. Other than the look and feel, we still need to get more of a feel for how much content is appropriate for an individual mathlet. Finally, we need to consider the appropriate technology for a mathlet. Much of what we've seen are applets. Does a mathlet need to be an applet? Does it need to be written in Java? We sometimes forget, when we are sitting in our offices with decent computers with good connections, that hardware is not a given for many of the people that will be using our code, and bandwidth and a reliable connection to the internet are still luxuries. An applet may not be the best way to deliver mathlets to areas with limited resources. In the next issue we will consider alternate technologies for developing and deploying mathlets. For now, we invite you to join us in the following "Mathlet Talk": A mathlet is neither an original piece of mathematics nor necessarily an applet. (Discuss)

Daniel Steinberg, "Welcome to the Developers' Area," Convergence (November 2004)