Dr. Joshua Holden, Mathematics Professor at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology is a proponent of what he calls the “rule of four” in teaching mathematics. He believes that math concepts should be expressed not only in formulas, but in words, pictures and tables. He considers Maple™, the technical computing software from Maplesoft, a powerful tool in his efforts to help students better visualize mathematics.
“It is really easy and useful to visualize math concepts in Maple,” says Dr. Holden. “I can quickly draw 3-D images of complicated concepts that would not be possible without such a tool. Using Maple, I can make students work with large amounts of data in tables - data that is too large to compute by hand – letting them see different patterns and trends. Not only does this help them understand the math better, but it keeps them more engaged and eager to learn more.”
About 2000 students use Maple as part of their curriculum at Rose-Hulman. The Institute’s laptop program ensures that each student has access to a laptop making it much easier for students to work with Maple whenever and wherever they happen to be. Dr. Holden especially appreciates that when he illustrates an example using Maple, students can create the same example and experiment with Maple on their laptops during his lectures. He says this saves time in the classroom, and also makes the students less dependent on the instructor.
Dr. Holden particularly appreciates Maple’s Clickable Math™tools. Maple’s palettes, interactive assistants, context-sensitive menus, and tutors, make it easy to learn, teach, and do mathematics. “These tools in Maple help students explore the math on their own, and I save the time I would otherwise spend teaching them commands for these functions. It also avoids mistakes – even small ones – that can be time consuming to fix,” says Dr. Holden. “Students still have the option of using the command driven interface in Maple, but that’s not how they interact with computers any more. They are used to commands that are just a click away.”
In his calculus class, Dr. Holden gives students self-guided activities that they complete using Maple. These projects often involve Maple worksheets with large datasets that would be tedious to complete by hand. Using Maple and its clickable features, he says, students can get over the tedious part quickly and move on to the more interesting parts of the problem. In fact, it is Maple’s attractive, easy-to-use interface that Dr. Holden considers to be Maple’s biggest strength. “Maple goes out of the way to make the learning curve as short as possible. Compared to other tools, this is Maple’s biggest advantage. Another feature I like in Maple is its ability to combine good looking mathematics with interactivity. With other tools, you get one or the other; to get them both in one is difficult. But with Maple, I can create sophisticated documents with attractive mathematical expressions that have interactive features. The mathematical expressions show up exactly like in textbooks, and that’s exactly how students should see it.”
Dr. Holden also uses Maple for illustrations in the area of math and art. “I write programs with sophisticated computations in Maple and convert them into graphical images which have some artistic value,” says Prof. Holden. “Images are the best way to get the point across and Maple really lets me make the graphics quickly and easily.”
Dr. Holden also appreciates the Maple Cloud Document Exchange , which facilitates easy sharing of Maple documents. He believes it is the best means to share Maple documents with and between students, in an age where they are used to online networking and internet sharing.
Apart from the benefits in teaching and learning, Dr. Holden says Maple helps prepare students for the real world. He says students come into the class with the notion of computers as toys, and their interaction with tools like Maple and the discovery of what they can and cannot do with such tools gives them a whole new perspective. They see the breadth and depth of the different resources that are available to them, and they start looking at sophisticated computer programs as tools that can empower them. “Technology is such an integral part of students and student life, and the use of tools like Maple is fundamental to a successful classroom experience,” concludes Dr. Holden.