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NYC LOCAL: Tuesday 14 November 2006 Lisp NYC: Ken Tilton on algebra tuto

From: secretary
Subject: NYC LOCAL: Tuesday 14 November 2006 Lisp NYC: Ken Tilton on algebra tutors, live data, and the Cells system
Date: 13 Nov 2006 02:51:01 -0500

  what="official Lisp NYC announcement">

 From: Heow Eide-Goodman <>
 To: LISP NYC <>
 Date: Fri, 10 Nov 2006 10:40:37 -0500

 Please join us for our next meeting on Tuesday, November 14th from 7:00
 to 9:00 at Trinity Lutheran Church. 

 Ken Tilton presents a live demo of his new product, an algebra tutor:

 The software is due to be released in three to six months, but the core 
 capabilities are there and I want to start now to round up possible 
 alpha and beta test sites, so it will be previewed at the Lisp-NYC
 meeting. First, some background:

     Math for America ( says: "To
     teach mathematics effectively, one needs strong knowledge of
     mathematics, solid pedagogical skills and a disposition well
     suited for the classroom." I like that because one of my
     mantras is that good teaching /software/ must be expert at
     its subject. Few Algebra products include an embedded expert
     system capable of solving Algebra. Instead they rely on
     hard-coded solutions to set examples. This prevents them:
       * From working with the student's own homework or
       * From helping with intermediate steps in a solution
         entered by the student;
       * Worst of all means they do not recognize and will mark
         as incorrect answers in mathematically correct but
         unconventional form, such as 3yx instead of 3xy.
 With MfA, I also like to say good educational software must be expert at
 teaching, giving neither too little help (frustrating) nor too much help
 (no learning). The design principle of my software is simply to
 replicate as well as possible the things I did working as a private
 tutor. The key features of the software are:
   1. "Old school" Algebra I content and explication.
   2. One-of-a-kind student-friendly WYSYIWYG math editor. No
      cryptic ASCII encoding such as (x2-1)/(x+1)
   3. Enter any problem. Not limited to built-in
      examples. Use with any textbook. But no cheating. The
      software will help with but not solve problems entered
      by the student.
   4. Step-by-step assistance as if a private tutor where by
      the student's side:
     * Progressively more helpful hints suggesting the next
       step in the solution
     * Solved examples similar to the student's work,
       randomly generated on the fly. The tutor offers
       textual annotations and/or visual highlighting to
       explain and illustrate its work as it proceeds. This
       is similar to solved examples in a textbook, but the
       software lets the student control the tutor
       interactively and have it explain or illustrate
       specific parts or steps of a larger problem as they
       see fit.
     * Incorrect steps (not just the final answer) are
       flagged immediately and must be corrected before
       continuing. The flip side is that, when an
       intermediate step is correct, the student knows so at
       once, reducing math anxiety.
     * The software awards points and penalties for each
       correct step and mistake, providing an incentive for
       students to wean themselves of automatic checking and
       hints (which reduce the points earned).

 No, it is not a game. Another guiding principle for is that no one who
 does not enjoy mathematics for itself should be teaching mathematics. A
 game format tells students "we know math is boring and painful, so we
 have sugar-coated it". The best math teacher appreciates and convey the
 beauty of math to their students. And math is fun, as any successful
 math student will tell you. Are they oddballs? No. One needs look no
 farther than the current suduko craze or the popular puzzle page of
 tabloid dailys to know that people simply enjoy solving things--aslong
 as they can. I believe the learning aids offered by my software --
 feedback, hints, solved examples -- will put success within the reach of
 vastly more students. 

 Past experience confirms this. Having sold a similar product called
 Algebra I HomeworkTutor back in the 1980's and 90's, under the company
 name Missing Link Software. Here are some review sound bites (I have the
 full reviews somewhere if you would like to see those):

   * "The best algebra tutorial program I have seen."
     Macworld, 4/1991
   * "For students requesting extra assistance in Algebra, a
     useful software alternative to the human tutor." Math &
     Computer Education, Fall, 1990
   * "An interactive tool to help a student solve homework or
     practice problems...unobtrusive monitor correcting
     errors...several levels of excellent instructional
     hints." MacGuide, August 1989

 With MfA I agree great teachers can always teach Algebra effectively. My
 software hopes to be at least a good tutor itself, but -- unlike even 
 the best teacher -- always be there to work with students one-on-one, in
 the classroom, computer lab, or at home. Perhaps software like mine is 
 another way to make more good teaching available to students?

 Come see a live demo of the software, which should be on the market as a
 commercial product (for Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux) within six months,
 covering the first half of a conventional Algebra I course. 

 The full Algebra I curriculum should be in place by summer. The focus of
 the presentation will be on math education, not programming, but it
 looks like the audience will be all programmers so I would be delighted
 to discuss Cells and Cello if anyone asks. The software is pretty far
 along and I want to start the process now of finding folks interested in
 trying the software out on real students, or at least in trying out the
 software themselves and offering feedback.

 Directions to Trinity: 

   Trinity Lutheran 
   602 E. 9th St. & Ave B., on Thomkins Square Park

   From N,R,Q,W (8th Street NYU Stop) and the 4,5 (Astor Street Stop): 
     Walk East 4 blocks on St. Marks, cross Thomkins Square Park. 

   From F&V (2nd Ave Stop): 
     Walk E one or two blocks, turn north for 8 short blocks 

   From L (1st Ave Stop): 
     Walk E one block, turn sounth for 5 short blocks 

   The M9 bus line drops you off at the doorstep and the M15 is near get 
   off on St. Marks & 1st) 

   To get there by car, take the FDR (East River Drive) to Houston then 
   go NW till you're at 9th & B.  Week-night parking isn't bad at all, 
   but if you're paranoid about your Caddy or in a hurry, there is a 
   parking garage on 9th between 1st and 3rd Ave. 

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LXNY is New York's Free Computing Organization.

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