It’s my first day working at The Math Forum @ Drexel! Today, I’m being familiarized with the other workers here and shown the ropes as far as how work is done here. I’m eager to get into the groove of things and bring my knowledge and skills to the better development of The Math Forum.

For now, my supervisor Suzanne has given me a few questions to get me going in the office and on this blog.

What is the Math Forum?

The Math Forum is an online community and resource for teachers and students to enrich, discuss and evaluate their mathematics education. “Ask Dr. Math”, “MathTools” and “Problems of the Week” are just some of the services offered. Though it’s really much more than the sum of its parts. At first glance, it’s a math website. A static place where textbook rules are written down and explained. But when looking deeper, The Math Forum is really a team, a service, and an idea. It evolves. The team develops and manages internet resources to create a worldwide connection service between students, teachers and parents that ultimately improves the mathematics education experience for all. The idea is that when the scale at which educators and students communicate increases, the quality of their education increases as well.

How might a student use the Math Forum?

What kind of student? Asking me, you’d get the answer of an engineering student. Passively, an engineering student would use The Math Forum as a knowledge bank. In solving engineering problems, it’s not enough to simply take notes in class about problem solving strategies because there are no “one size fits all” strategies. The simplest way to get through engineering school is to have a mental library of physical, mathematical and chemical laws and theorems to use as templates for categorizing and eventually solving a wide variety of problems. The fundamental flaw in this way of thinking, and as well the separator between good engineering students and great ones, is that it ignores the fundamental understanding of these laws.

Mathematics is the language of engineers, but while many engineers speak it, only the best fully use the art of it. The Math Forums online tools are nothing but a boon to engineering students. The problem solving strategies developed, discussed and published through the myriad projects are all focused on developing a deep understanding of mathematical thought. Engineering students rarely see a mathematical proof, yet we are commonly asked to do them. Making mathematical proofs is one of the best ways to learn the hard sciences of engineering, but where does one learn how to do them? The rubrics involved in the PoWs at the Math Forum ask for nothing short of the rigor of a mathematical proof if not the expression of a deeper or insightful understanding. In perfecting this art through the PoWs, Ask Dr. Math and it’s massive archive, an Engineering student can greatly improve their ability to solve engineering problems accurately and with more detail.

I’m honestly surprised that very few of the other MSE students in my class use The Math Forum. There are around forty MSE students in my graduating class, which also represents one of the largest at Drexel thus far. Every student knows each other; it’s a tight community.  There is always a large group of MSE students gathered to discuss and develop strategies the night  before –and often for full days before– a midterm or a final. I’m sure we would do collectively better if  we developed personal strategies with the services offered by The Math Forum during the academic term.

Also lots of KenKen… after my work is done of course!

How might a teacher use the Math Forum?

After watching a few of the Ignite lectures, I had a pretty good idea about how to answer this question. A teacher might use the Math Forum like a student. Though instead of studying Mathematics, they’re studying how students learn. Beyond the Ignite lectures, The Math Forum serves as a library of student ideas and behavior rather than a library of mathematics strategies.