As Common Core begins to take form in more and more schools, using tools that make learning the ‘M’ in STEM more engaging are a welcome addition to any classroom. To that end, the NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) has provided educators with a free, open source suite of math software that can be used with or without an active internet connection. This is a very impressive set of tools with a good set of documentation to help get things going. The Core Tools are divided into 3 families: Algebra and Functions, Geometry and Trigonometry, and Statistics and Probability. Installation is simple, just download and install locally on your hard drive or put it on a flash drive for a portable version. Teachers can use it as a presentation tool and as an instructional tool. Teach students to use this like a Swiss army knife of math-students who have a copy on their own flash drive can use the software as they see fit for a variety of STEM class work.
An aside for teachers: This is not as easy as it sounds with students who may be used to the standard ‘take out your books and work the odd numbered problems’ method of instruction. For students to use software as a means to an end is a change in mind set for most. Giving a context to such instruction is critically important to keep students engaged. Have a meaningful project at hand which is going to demonstrate the utility of this resource, rather than plugging in numbers out of a book problem that students aren’t interested in anyway. For example, team up with a science teacher, PE teacher or health teacher for instance, and have students do an activity that generates data they can use to populate variables in a function. The lessons and resources pdf also includes excellent tutorials to get things started.
To take a detailed look at the capabilities of Core Math Tools without downloading the software, breeze through this PDF file. In the meantime, here is a brief summary of what is included in each of the 3 families:
This group of tools includes CAS, (Computer Algebra System) and a Spreadsheet. With CAS, students can manipulate expressions and equations, produce tables of graphs and functions, and solve equations and inequalities. The spreadsheet allows them to create custom spreadsheet formulas, relating and displaying data between cells as they wish. There are also tools for analysis of data including sorting, graphing and the chi-square test.
A powerful set of interactive drawing tools is included here that allows students to manipulate 2D and 3D objects in space. They can do constructions, measurements, transformations and much more with a set of custom apps designed to display properties of different figures. There is even a programming function where a ‘robot’ can draw, construct and animate objects in a plane.
Analysis of data and simulation of probability situations in this family of tools is useful across the entire curriculum. From science students generating experimental data to social studies students studying demographic data, many courses can make use of graphical relationships between variables. Business students can run simulations of probabilistic situations, and determine the probability of cause and effect in analyzing events in the stock market for instance.
The Core Math Tools by NCTM are a most impressive resource for STEM teachers. The depth and breadth of these tools really could make a textbook based curriculum obsolete. If teachers in a variety of disciplines in your building became familiar with at least some of its functions, there is no reason to think that common core math could not be implemented in short order, enhancing student achievement and making math relevant and meaningful outside the classrom.