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Re: Mathematica and Education

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg65041] Re: [mg65014] Mathematica and Education
  • From: "G. Raymond Brown" <gbrown at>
  • Date: Sun, 12 Mar 2006 23:58:14 -0500 (EST)
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at

 Following this thread for some time, and as a physics and chemistry
educator of undergraduate students, I am firmly in the camp whose
spokepersons are David Park and Paul Abbott.  For years I have supported
the courses I teach with Mathematica notebooks and XML files derived from
my Mathematica notebooks posted on course management systems.  I have
also strongly encouraged my students to buy and use Mathematica (my
institutions still, despite my urging, do not have site licenses for the
software, and students mostly consider the software too expensive to
obtain for themselves). In general I find that Mathematica provides an
excellent tool ("pencil and paper" as described by David) for
mathematical discourse between instructor and student. It is a joy to
grade and return student papers electronically, and much easier and less
time-consuming (for me, at least) than killing trees with paper
submissions and the attendant physical organization and handling of paper

It _is_ necessary that students understand the mathematics underlying the
Mathematica processes. Paul's reference to Buchbach's contributions are
right on the mark here. Students _can_ abuse Mathematica in the same way
that they abuse simple calculators, reproducing the ancient "garbage in 
garbage out" result. Use of Mathematica simply does not substitute for
learning the mathematical underpinnings of the subject. What it _does_
substitute for is the tedium of manual manipulation of mathematical
formulae, greatly expanding the scope of problems I can reasonably assign
to students.

Mathematica brings a host of benefits to any party, but IMHO its greatest
benefit to education lies in its enabling of asynchronous mathematical
discourse between students and instructor. Mathematica simply has no
match in this regard. In this role, it greatly facilitates the learning
of mathematics applied to solution of real-world problems.


G. Raymond Brown, Ph.D.
Scientific Program Coordinator
Division of Science and Mathematics
Morehouse College

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