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Abstract -- MegaMath: Expanding and Connecting the Mathematics Community Education Track
D6: New Concepts of Learning

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MegaMath: Expanding and Connecting the Mathematics Community

Casey, Nancy ( casey931@cs.uidaho.edu)


Mathematics is a live science where new discoveries are being made every day. The frontier of its knowledge is exciting intellectual territory where mathematicians experiment and play with creative and imaginative ideas. Many ideas of current mathematical interest are accessible to young children and their teachers in the form of puzzles and games. Concern that this view of mathematics is absent from most school classrooms led an elementary school teacher and a theoretical computer scientist to initiate the MegaMath project in 1990.

Since 1992, under the sponsorship of Los Alamos National Laboratory (USA), MegaMath has produced a large body of text materials, and made them available to mathematicians and educators via ftp and snail mail. These include a workbook for teachers containing clear and extensive background information on seven mathematical topics (graph theory, knot theory, algorithms, finite automata, map coloring, formal logic, and infinity), and ideas for using them in the classroom. Since then mathematicians, computer scientists, teachers, college students and other MegaMath collaborators have brought these activities to school classrooms and (yes!) playgrounds in the US and Canada. The text materials have been expanded to include stories from these school activities and descriptions of how the activities and content of MegaMath support and enrich current mathematics reform efforts, particularly that of the (US) National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

In 1994 MegaMath became available on the World Wide Web. The Web version of MegaMath is highly visual, exploits the navigation potential of hypertext, and supports the primary MegaMath goal of bringing exciting mathematical ideas directly to its audience without imploring national curriculum boards and the textbook industry to agree to do so. Most importantly, the non-hierarchical structure of the Internet lends itself to the establishment of a mathematics learning community modeled after and connected to the existing global mathematics community.

An important aspect of mathematics as a live science is that mathematicians collaborate--they exchange and discuss ideas, share their triumps and frustrations, and encourage one another. Can young mathematics learners investigating current mathematical ideas experience the excitement of being part of the community of mathematicians? The Web is a forum where ideas, problems, approaches and solutions can be exchanged and discussed and where mathematicians of varying ages and experience can inspire one another. Within the MegaMath environment, users can interact with the authors and be put in touch with each other, thus enabling communication rooted in ideas about mathematics, teaching, and learning that is not constrained by physical and social boundaries inherent in the structure of the educational system.

The present emphasis for MegaMath is to expand the Web materials to support and connect a growing body of collaborators. Among these are: undergraduate math majors enrolled in a knot theory course who will bring activities from knot theory to a sixth grade classroom, professors teaching a computer science course for non-majors, student programmers developing on-line games and animation, teachers using MegaMath activities in their classrooms and sponsoring "family math" evenings, and individual students exploring MegaMath on their own.

The following topics will be addressed in this paper: the genesis of MegaMath at the intersection of mathematics and theories of multicultural literacy; how this project relates to the NCTM reform effort; stories of productive, non-traditional collaborations involving MegaMath; and, most importantly, suggestions for how anyone with an interest in mathematics (regardless of age or experience) can enter and participate in the electronic MegaMath community.

The MegaMath URL is: http://www.c3.lanl.gov/mega-math