This is part three of a special week-long series called Big Idea Week, ideas that I hope will become realities one day soon.
This idea is once again something that many websites and software applications try to do, but that nobody has gotten quite right yet: a powerful, easy-to-use math problem and worksheet generator.
Two sites jump to mind immediately when you think about generating a series of arithmetic or simple algebra problems: Math.com and edHelper.com. Both websites are good at what they do, but as helpful as they are, they both offer limited options on relatively few topics (and in edHelper's case, you only have free access to a few sample worksheets). On the software side, if you've used ExamView, you know that it has a fairly powerful editor that gives you a lot of control over each question and the overall layout. Yet you also know that it is aimed at making tests and not more varied types of assignments, and you are still drawing from a relatively small pool of question stems.
The purpose of this program would be to both generate questions on virtually any topic (middle and high school math primarily) and to allow users to virtually cut-and-paste exactly the kind of practice problems and/or worksheets they need. I can't tell you the hours I have spent literally cutting a pasting from online and offline sources just to create an assignment that meets the needs of my students and covers things the way I want them to be, not the way a textbook publisher dictates.
This software could be based online or off, but due to the scope that I'm imagining, it would probably need to be both: a powerful but simple editor/publishing program for your computer, and a huge database of questions based on state standards and commonly tested question stems available online when needed.
It must be easy to learn and use right "out of the box," because it would be meant to save time and effort that would have been spent gathering resources and then assembling things by hand. A user must have complete control over the layout of a sheet--we should be able to make everything look the way we want it to print, including making things fit on as few pages as possible--without having to play around with copier and printer settings too much. One of the realities many teachers face today is limits on their access to paper and/or the number of copies they can make, so this software should easily optimize our use of each page without compromising quality or readability.
You should also be able to output your work in different formats. In ExamView, for example, you can export your tests as RTF files that can be read by most word processors (which is acceptable, but not much fun to edit). In short, you should not have to download or purchase this particular editing software (especially since installing software is not always an option for school computers) to read and edit your content.
I think having a web-based community where you can save and share your content online would also be useful to many people, and would be a great service to integrate with the ultimate search engine/database I discussed earlier. The sharing/online publishing process should also be easy and not necessarily require registration.
Come back tomorrow for Big Idea #4 (and Five for Friday)!