Socially damaged and disadvantaged young people in the inner cities can be switched on to mathematics through the use of scientific computing software, according to the new Education blog just launched on Scientific Computing World’s website http://www.scientific-computing.com/education/.
One blogger works on an inner-city truancy project with young teenagers ‘who should be in early Key Stage Four, but, because their previous education has been disrupted by events beyond their control or a teacher’s capacity to imagine, are in most cases struggling to master KS2 or even KS1’. So he rigged up a machine with a demonstration version of Cabri3D, which is used for the creation of dynamic models in science and engineering, and waited for the class (presumably with some apprehension).
‘And they loved it. They are very videogame savvy, and related to the direct manipulation of an onscreen object in a way they had never related to paper or cardboard equivalents,’ the blog notes. ‘With the ice broken, they were then amenable to physical exploration in a way that they had never been before.’
Throwing beanbags as a way of illustrating the power of Mathematica 6; a mathematical trip to Stonehenge; and a review of Arthur Clarke and Stephen Baxter’s 2005 book Sunstorm; are among the many other items also currently featured on the blog.
The blog is intended as way for students and those interested in education to exchange ideas and information about how computing can make learning about science and technology easier, faster and more rewarding. The emphasis is firmly on the ‘user perspective’.
Although Scientific Computing World is a commercial publication, the education blog is a non-commercial area of the website (at least for the moment!). Why then is the publication devoting space to a non-profitmaking endeavour? The initiative was taken by Felix Grant, a long-term, highly respected, and highly valued contributor to the magazine. He fits his contributions to Scientific Computing World in between his full-time job as a consultant research statistician but still finds time to take an interest in education and in development issues in the Third World.
Felix Grant said: ‘I took a wrong turn at one point in my own education. Only the chance arrival of a new syllabus enabled two inspirational teachers to show me again what an adventure science is. I meet a lot of good teachers now, and a lot of students who have fallen off the ladder. They need something to connect them, and can’t afford to wait for a fluke occurrence like the one that saved me. The combination of scientific computing and modern graphical interfaces can often be the key.’ The editor-in-chief of Scientific Computing World, Dr Tom Wilkie, whose background lies in mathematics and physics, also sees scientific education as vital and writes in the ‘About’ section of the blog that ‘In Britain and many other “Western, developed” countries, young people are turning away from maths and the ‘hard’ sciences as they choose their A-level subjects — the ones they study for their final years at school. Those that do choose those subjects often don’t go on to study them at university. Those that do take those subjects at degree level often don’t choose science careers on graduation.
‘We are not saying that this section of the website could reverse this haemorrhage of talent … but it could be one part of the attempt. And just in case we’re getting too serious . . . We hope this section will be fun, as well!’