The Math Forum: 2000 Summer Institute - sum2000

July 25 - August 11, 2000 - Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

2000 Summer Institute || Agenda || List of Participants

Day 9 Summary

Ian Underwood presented a session about the Dr. Math service. When you have a math question and you want to ask someone with some mathematical expertise, you can "ask Dr. Math." For example, "Why is pi the same for every circle?" is typical of the thousands of questions Dr. Math gets each month. There is a pool of over 200 volunteers, of which about 20 are very active 'docs'. Depending on the season, between 30% and 70% of the questions get answered.

Doctors go to "Triage" to see recently asked questions, and to select questions to answer. The doctors have archives and math resources available to them to help them answer questions. Their goal is to lead the questioner to the answer without giving him/her the answer.

The Teacher Institute participants submitted questions to Dr. Math. Then it was time to 'operate'! They went to the Triage Area to select and work on answers to questions posed by others in the Institute, using their own knowledge, the archives and other mathematics resources available from within the Triage area.

New doctors go through a tenuring process to help them learn to answer questions appropriately and fully. After writing a sufficient number of answers that do not require editing by their mentor, they receive direct-send access. The Institute participants do not have direct-send access, so their answers went to the Holding Tank. The participants went to the Holding Tank to see how their questions were answered. A discussion followed about whether their questions were answered, and what makes is valued as a "good" answer in the Dr. Math context. For example, docs always use an answer as an opportunity to teach. Often they are teaching mathematical thinking and concepts. Other times they are teaching search methods and real-life applications. The doctors' 'art' is to give hints and ideas, instructing wherever possible. In addition, docs are encouraged to express a 'humanistic' tone, which may include humor, personal anecdotes, etc.

Discussion or Questions:

Q: Do you ever have any doctors that you do not want to keep as a doctor?

A: Yes, we had a doctor recently who had written 200 answers, but was not learning. Her answers were sometimes incorrect or focused on the wrong things.

Q: Would you consider recruiting students as doctors?

A: Yes, but we need a way to make it work that addresses such concerns as: Can students be trusted once they've been tenured? Are their language skills developed enough? Students don't always use appropriate humor, even if their answers are helpful. Perhaps students should learn to mentor with the PoW's first, where it is monitored by the teachers and it is a more focused discussion. In any event, students would not have direct-send priviledges until they earned them; apable students could work their way in to being a doctor. Students working in a school expect someone to "read over their shoulders." It won't be a problem for a teacher to check what they've written. Mentoring (for PoWs or Dr. Math) could be part of the community service projects which increasing numbers of schools require students to do. This could include a "Dr. Math-in-a-Box", i.e., an ask-an-expert service customized for a specific school, district, etc.

Please e-mail Ian with your thoughts about this or any of the questions below.

  • How does this kind of mentoring compare to PoW or T2T mentoring?

  • What use could you make of this in your classrooms? how would we have to change it to make it useful to you?

  • What is the value of a response from a doctor, compared to an answer found in the archives?

  • Can students be doctors? could you imagine setting up a local version at your school, or in your school system?

  • How could the service be improved -- for the patients, and for the doctors?

  • What would it take to get you to sign up to be a doctor?
  • Work on a list of math topic 'tags' for at least one PoW. (Geometry, Algebra, Elementary, etc.)

  • Work on your projects.

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