Possibly expanding student Math Image roles

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From Chris Taranta on 6/29:

Next year, I will be teaching calculus for the first time. My students will be 12th graders at Masterman (an academic magnet school in Philly); the class is non-AP calculus. Most students in the class are not particularly interested in math. They care about doing well in school and usually take other AP classes; math is often their least favorite subject. They make an excellent potential target audience for Math Images. My main goal in using Math Images with them is to vivify calculus—find connections to the real world, find connections to disciplines such as art and science, find something beautiful.

When I clicked on Calculus on the Math Images (MI) home page, I found five Images. “Monkey Saddle” looked interesting. The site contains an image, a terse basic description, a more mathematical explanation, and a blank teaching materials section. The page is formatted and reads like a brief Wikipedia article. No author is listed.

Much of the material on the Math Images Home Page focuses on what the reader can do at the Math Images Project—ask questions, make suggestions, do a class project, create an image page, etc. Having read the “Monkey Saddle” page, I thought about what could be done to help the reader do something with that page. What if the page included the name of the author, her/his photo, a personal math history, a statement about why the author loves Math and Math Images and was inspired to create this (and other) page(s). What if there was a place on the Monkey Saddle page written by the author encouraging feedback, questions, etc.?

As a collaborator on the project, the experiences I have found the most interesting are in working directly with the authors—listening to them as they present their pages and talking with them about their ideas and challenges in creating their pages. Is there an effective way to translate such an experience to the Math Images site? What if there were video components in which the students shared about their process? Would creating such a video help the authors perceive themselves as mathematical ambassadors, taking leadership in helping others find gateways into an appreciation and even love for mathematics?

The web work of Vi Hart, Dan Meyer, Salman Khan, and Kate Nowak are clearly personal creations which include dynamic, accessible mathematics. Vi Hart, for example, specializes in starting with an interesting idea and then penetrating deep levels of mathematics in her videos. Salman Khan has had a huge impact on mathematics education in a very short time through his video tutorials.

The Math Images project was conceived to benefit both the college student authors and the web readers (teachers, high school and middle school students, etc.) By fostering greater connection and collaboration between the two, I see potential to make both the Math Images process and product a stronger, more dynamic one.

Kate 15:37, 7 July 2011 (UTC): I said this at the meeting last night, but I figured I'd better put it up here.

While I agree with Chris' general idea that getting to know the author of a page could help make Math Images a more personal and interesting experience for many students, I don't think that having an "About the Author" section on the page is the best way to implement it. Such a section ties the page down to a single author, which goes completely against the collaborative nature of a wiki. For example, Harrison's been doing some great work on Mobius Strip, a page that was originally created a couple summers ago by Lizah Masis. If Mobius Strip had a section that was all about Lizah and her personal math history and why she loves math and wanted to create this page, then it would create this set up where Harrison would have to find her and say "Hey, I think this page would be better if you did this, this, and this," instead of just going in and working on it himself. And I don't think it would work to try and expand the "About the Author" section with a blurb for each new author - the idea that they have to write something like that may be off-putting to some, and if a page acquires several authors over the years, the section will just get way too long.

I actually think we have the structure necessary to try and bring about a more personalized sense of who wrote a page. All pages already have a credits tab, which lists the page's original creator and the users who have been editing it recently. Clicking on someone's name there brings you to their user page, which I think could be used to share some information about the author and their relationship with math.

When it comes to video, while I love Vi Hart's work as much as anyone, I don't really see videos becoming an integral part of the Math Images site. There's already such great content elsewhere online, and this site is focused on writing about images. It doesn't seem necessary or feasible to me to have a "making of" video to go along with every page, or even every creator, especially as the site continues to grow. It might, however, be a good idea to have one or two videos about who we are and how we work spotlighted on the home page.