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Discussion: Traffic Jam Applet tool
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Subject:   requirements (software, pedagogical, ...)
Author: Don Speray
Date: Apr 20 2003
If this community would like improved tools, it would be useful to software
engineers with an interest in math education like myself to know what is wanted
(and why).  I would like to think that effective tools would flourish if only we
programmers had a better clue about what you would use.  Few of us are as
well-connected to the educational community as the Geometer's Sketchpad team,
or teachers ourselves, as Rick Parris of Peanut Software.  The educational
market can't support a thriving software industry, so 1) it is a niche business,
2) there's little incentive and a large risk to enter, and 3) motivated
individuals, including freeware authors, can make a difference.  This community
can help itself by making it easier for those passionate developers to enter and
be successful -- a win-win situation.

Often, when I check out a math application, it's apparent that it was written
solely because the programmer knew how to do it, and for no other reason
("great, yet another polynomial graphing program...").  Since there isn't much
discussion going on over at the Developers Area, let me throw out some questions
for teachers to mull over, with an eye toward *future* great software.  I would
take pointers to research, conferences, etc., but I'd rather know what classroom
teachers think.

What are good examples of pedagogically effective software techniques (and why),
and what are poor examples (and why)?  Do you have advice for product
developers?  Don't merely mention specific products because we won't necessarily
have access to them.  In other words, don't simply try to sell us on your
favorite tool -- we're programmers, not teachers, and we want to do

What do your students find to be elegant (easy to learn, to use, and to
remember) User Interface techniques?  What are UI pitfalls to watch out for with
students (and why)?

What areas of your curriculum are not covered, to your satisfaction, and why do
you think that is?  How much "teaching support" (you decide what that means)
should accompany software?

What organizational barriers to software purchases are in effect in your
district?  Are you free to buy what you want just for your classroom, no matter
how inexpensive, or the publisher?  Must software be integrated with textbook
selection?  Must software be modularized to cover several grades?  Is there a
requirement for products that keep centralized, networked student records?

Are Windows applications losing out to Java applets on Web pages (even in the

As you can see, I haven't even touched on obvious math questions.  I simply put
on a Product Manager hat for this exercize.  I am aware of the age-old problem
of asking potential users what they want -- they'll only know it when they see
it.  But maybe you'll be encouraged to think beyond what you use, especially if
you know it can be improved.

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