Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Android Apps in Mathematics and Humanities

In case someone is trying to cull something helpful from all of this and looking for something specific, let me give you a quick intro to what I teach and what classes I had in mind when using the tablet this semester.  I teach in both the Mathematics Department and the Humanities Department.  The math class I had this semester was MAT 134, Technical Mathematics, and so that was the class I mostly had in mind when thinking about math apps.  In the Humanities Department I teach courses on western civilization and philosophy (the introductory logic course).      

I found the post on Socrative helpful.  I have already downloaded it and am going to try to experiment with it today in class.  The post mentioned that it had not worked as well with a droid device, but so far in my testing of it I haven’t discovered any problems. 

Though it’s not particular to any subject matter, I discovered both Dropbox and Evernote as a result of searching for apps.  Yeah, I know, welcome to the 21st century – I felt like the last one to discover these (and of course you can use them without a tablet).  I found both of them helpful in their own ways.  Dropbox is the one I could envision using more for classroom purposes.  It has some redundancy with Angel if you are simply using it for students to submit work or to distribute files to students, but the area where it could be more useful than Angel is for collaborative work. 
The particular apps I found interesting pertaining to math, especially technical mathematics, were Smart Measure and GraphingCalculator.  Smart Measure calculates distances using the camera feature on the device and some basic math.  If I knew that all my students had access to a tablet or smartphone I would build a lesson plan in trigonometry using this app.  Once they know how it works, it could be a useful job-site app for many of my students who go on to work in construction or surveying-related trades.

The Graphing Calculator is just what it sounds like.  It may sound unnecessary, but since we don’t require graphing calculators for MAT 134, yet there are frequent occasions when it would be quite helpful, it provides a cheap (free!) way to get a basic graphing calculator for any student who has a tablet or smartphone.

In the Humanities, I found many apps that looked promising initially but turned out to be quite unhelpful.  Two exceptions were Art Academy and the promise of eBooks.  Art Academy allows students to explore various paintings or painters in an interactive way, and with greater detail than we can do just by looking at pictures I can show on the screen from a computer.  There are various platforms and ways to access ebooks, but in general it could be a way to assign more reading in certain books knowing that they won’t have to fight over limited access to books on reserve on the library.

Two challenges I’ve seen are (a) not all students have tablets or smartphones, and (b) for every good and useful app there must be ten that either don’t work or don’t do anything interesting. It takes time to sort through the garbage to find good apps.

If I could have more time with a tablet, I would like to either try some of the same (or similar) apps on an iPad for comparison, or integrate tablets into the whole course from the beginning of the semester.  Particularly now with the discovery of Socrative, I would like to think of more ways to use that in the classroom (for example, there is an “Exit Ticket” feature that would be helpful for immediate assessment).

I have three ideas for “mini-apps”:
1.       Math – something that uses GPS to mark where students are at different points, then calculates distances, angles, etc.  But not in a way that does all the work, but rather in a way that walks students through the process so that it can be used as a hands-on lesson in geometry or trig applications for something like surveying.
2.       Math – a graphing calculator that can use a logarithmic scale as well as a linear scale.  
3.       For Philosophy (logic and reasoning) – something where the instructor (or students) can clip comments or summarize arguments they find in current news stories and put them in a central location; from which either groups of students or individuals can later work through an assessment of those statements (or, access it during class and go over some examples with the whole class). 

1 comment:

  1. I really like your third idea--I teach speech, and we do a lot of work with argumentation toward the end of the semester. Having a compilation of arguments to work from would be great, and hopefully help them see how the concepts apply in their lives outside the classroom.