Sunday, July 20, 2008

Texas Instruments ends We All Use Math Every Day program

I recently received an email from Texas Instruments letting me know that they will no longer be developing lesson plans and materials for the We All Use Math Every Day program. WAUMED is based around the hit CBS series Numb3rs, which for the uninitiated is a crime procedural where math (often very advanced math) is used to help catch the bad guys. Luckily, the WAUMED website will remain online as a free, easy-access archive of all of the previously developed materials.

From my perspective, most of the math used on the show is relevant for Geometry, Statistics, Algebra II and beyond. I didn't find a lot of topics directly relevant to my Algebra I course, but that all depends on your particular state standards. Sometimes the math is central to an episode's plot--either the criminals are using math to facilitate their scheme, or Charlie (the resident math genius) uses it to track them down. Other times, a mathematical concept mentioned only sparingly and the rest of the episode resorts to well-worn genre clich├ęs and plot devices.

Thus I recommend showing short, relevant clips of episodes where the specific math concept is explained, avoiding entire episodes except for special occasions. As Charlie breaks down advanced concepts for his FBI cohorts on the show, he explains them in a way anyone can understand. It reminds me of how characters on Star Trek: The Next Generation would always explain sci-fi jargon to each other using simple analogies ("It would be like turning the Enterprise into a giant magnet!"). Whether or not you follow up with the WAUMED-provided lesson plans, even a sub-5 minute clip will help engage your students and explain the main idea of your lesson in a memorable and meaningful way.

For example, last year I used the season 1 episode "Identity Crisis" to illustrate exponential functions and growth. Early in the episode, Charlie explains a pyramid scheme and uses paper folding to visually demonstrate the progression to his colleagues. I didn't use the accompanying TI lesson plan, but I repeated the paper folding example from the episode as part of my own lesson.

When it comes to using films and video in class, I would usually recommend that teachers stick to renting or borrowing DVDs to keep their out-of-pocket costs down. That being said, I think most secondary math teachers should own this series on DVD, because it's that valuable to have on hand when you need it.