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Slates, Slide Rules, and Software

Some of you may remember software? That was the thing we would use to graph functions on computer screens...before graphing calculators took over. A few of you may remember slide rules, but may not admit that you used to carry one or two of them hanging from your belt. And none of you will remember slates (if you do, change in education is slower than expected).

The web site Slates, Slide Rules, and Software is designed to to be a memorable tribute of sorts to the history of American mathematics education...especially the teaching tools involved. It is based on a related exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. Given the distance involved (and the fact that the exhibit closed on Sept. 5, 2006 and will not re-open until 2008), the web site will have to suffice.

It is broken into four time periods: The Early Republic, The World Stage, The Cold War, and The Information Age. Each period includes a preview overview of some of the people involved, the problems faced, and the teaching tools involved. Some bias seems to be involved in its selection of tools.

The web site also includes a great list of related references and web site links. No, MATHNEXUS.WWU.EDU is not listed, but remember I said that some bias was evident!

On one level, the web site will prompt some discussions and perhaps some nostalgia. On another level, the web site might suggest a reexamination of not just the tools mathematics teachers use, but also how they are used....with an eye on the "current" future. That is, if the exhibit added a new section next year, lets call it The Age of Societal Retraction, what would it say...and what tools would be displayed? I-pods? Interactive White Boards? Algebra Lab Gear? Or...?