Homework on Autopilot
Why teach calculus students what a revolutionary software system can
solve automatically?
August 30, 2000Wolfram Research has announced the release of a
standalone version of Calculus WIZ, a revolutionary software
product for
firstyear
calculus students. With Calculus WIZ, students' computers can now
solve
over 90 percent of the homework problems assigned in a typical calculus
course. Just as the
introduction of the pocket calculator led to serious debate among math
instructors, Calculus WIZ raises serious questions about how
mathematics
should be taught in the
age of the computer.
Calculus WIZ was conceived by Keith Stroyan, Professor of
Mathematics at
the University of Iowa and longtime crusader in the cause of calculus
reform, a movement in
math education that stresses conceptual understanding over rote "cookbook"
calculations.
"Traditional calculus instruction is dominated by the 'template examples
and exercises' paradigm," says Stroyan. "Students work three sets of five
exercises each, just like
the three examples a few pages earlier in the text. This activity has some
valueit builds confidence through practicebut it doesn't do anything
to
develop a deep
understanding. That means it leaves a big gap in the students' ability to
apply calculus to more openended problems."
In a typical introductory calculus sequence, so much time is spent
learning and practicing specific pencilandpaper techniques that the
underlying theory is often
shortchanged. "The traditional courses tend not to have any time left
after students work all the template exercises," Stroyan notes.
However, the templates themselves have become standardized through
hundreds of years of math education, a fact that makes it possible for
Calculus WIZ to contain over
a hundred "solvers," each one addressing a different exercise template. To
solve a given homework problem, the student needs only to fire up
Calculus
WIZ, find the
appropriate solver, type in the details of the exercise, and then sit back
as the computer solver does the work.
A complete electronic calculus textbook, including exercises, is another
part of Calculus WIZ, making it an effective tool for selfstudy.
However,
what sets it apart from
every other calculus study aid is the problemsolving power it gets from
Mathematica, the leading technical computing system. Calculus
WIZ includes
a special version of
Mathematica's "brain," the extraordinary collection of mathematical
algorithms and knowledge that is the heart of Mathematica's
computational
power.
Will Calculus WIZ change the way that calculus is taught? Probably
not all
by itselfbut anyone who remembers how pocket calculators changed math
education can see
the signs of a similar revolution taking shape.
The standalone edition of Calculus WIZ is available for Windows
95/98/NT/2000. It requires 160 MB of
disk space for harddisk
installation. The suggested retail price is $69.50 (U.S. and Canada). For
more information about Calculus WIZ, visit http://www.wolfram.com/wiz.
