15 Anniversaries for our 15th Anniversary: 4/28 – 5/04

To celebrate WebAssign’s 15th anniversary, each Monday we will be bringing you 15 anniversaries in science, technology, mathematics, and education that you can look forward to throughout the week. Here are some important dates in history coming up this week:

April 28

1900 – Dutch astronomer Jan Oort is born. While studying the motions of stars in our galaxy he notices the amount of observable objects in the galaxy do not account for its total mass. Although it is shown later that Oort’s measurements are erroneous, it is an error that reflects the greater truth, and is cited as the first evidence of dark matter. Oort also discovers the galactic halo, and is remembered for promoting the theory of the Oort cloud to explain the existence and behavior of comets.

1906 – Austrian-American mathematician and logician Kurt Gödel is born. Gödel proposes the existence of inherent limitations in mathematics when he publishes his incompleteness theorems in 1931 at age 25.

April 29

1854 – French physicist and mathematician Henri Poincaré is born. Poincaré  proposes the Poincaré conjecture which remains unsolved until the early 2000’s. Poincaré is later remembered as one of the founders of several fields of physics and mathematics including special relativity, chaos theory, and topology.

1893 – American chemist Harold Urey is born. Urey is the first to detect the isotope of hydrogen, deuterium, and receives the Nobel prize for his discovery of heavy water. During World War II, Urey and his team develop a gaseous diffusion method of separating isotopes of the radioactive element uranium, a process which is necessary for the Manhattan Project to produce the atomic bomb. After the war, Urey conducts an experiment which demonstrates that the conditions of early earth were capable of producing amino acids necessary for the origin of life.

April 30

1777 – German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss is born. Beginning in his teens, Gauss produces a ground-breaking mathematical discovery in nearly every year of his life. Although most students of science and mathematics will later associate him with the invention of the Gaussian surface and Gauss’s law, Gauss is one of the greatest mathematicians in history.

1916 – American mathematician Claude Shannon is born. Shannon’s 1937 master’s thesis proposes a circuit design which serves as the foundation for all modern digital electronics, including computers.

May 1

1753 – Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus publishes his Species Plantarum, which serves as the foundation for modern classification of plants.

1825 – Swiss mathematician Johann Jakob Balmer is born. Balmer derives an empirical formula for the visible spectral lines of hydrogen, which will later be known as the Balmer series.

1852 – Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal is born. Cajal investigates the structure and growth of neurons, showing that the nervous system is composed of a multitude of individual cells. Cajal’s discovery of what will later be known as the neuron doctrine earns him the Nobel prize.

May 2

1844 – Canadian-American inventor Elijah McCoy is born. McCoy receives 57 patents for his inventions related to the lubrication of steam engines.

2000 – United States President Bill Clinton announces that Global Positioning Systems (GPS) will no longer be restricted to military use.

May 3

1892 – English physicist George Paget Thomson is born. Thomson receives the Nobel prize for his work showing that electrons experience diffraction, and therefore exhibit the properties of waves.

1933 – American phyicist Steven Weinberg is born. Weinberg shows that electromagnetism and the weak interaction responsible for radioactive decay are the result of the same underlying physical phenomenon. This unification of two forces known as the electroweak interaction earn him the Nobel prize.

1978 – The first spam e-mail is sent by the Digital Equipment Corporation to every ARPANET address on the United States west coast.

May 4

1825 – English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley is born. Huxley becomes an early and outspoken proponent of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and argues for reforms in science education in schools. As a result of his studies of the fossils of the dinosaurs Compsognathus and Archaeopteryx, Huxley correctly concludes that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs.

Friday Funny!

mobius strip

Have a good science/math/teaching joke? We want to hear them!

Instructor Spotlight: David Little, Ph.D.

Highlighting the innovative work of our outstanding faculty users is something we love to do here at WebAssign. This week we are taking a look at Dr. David Little and the Calculus app he has created. “A Little Calculus,”  available from the iTunes store, was designed to aid in the teaching and learning of calculus and gives students the ability to interact with and gain a conceptual understanding of the fundamental topics of calculus.  We spoke with David further about his teaching background and motivation to create this app.

David Little

What is your educational background and teaching history?  

I graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1994 with a B.S. in Mathematics and I received my Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of California, San Diego in 2000.  Since graduating, I’ve spent time at three different schools: 2 years at UC San Diego, 2 years at Dartmouth, and the past 9 years at Penn State University.  My primary teaching responsibilities include first year calculus courses as well as courses in combinatorics and discrete mathematics.

How long have you used WebAssign?

I first used WebAssign in Fall 2006 and have used it regularly since Fall 2010.

How does online learning and homework “work” in your classroom?

I assign online homework every day, which forces students to keep up-to-date with the material.  For a long time, I had difficulty convincing students to start the assignments well before the due date. This past semester, I gave students a bonus on each problem they completed 48 hours before the due date.  This has really encouraged students to start assignments early, which gives them the time to ask questions if they are uncertain how to complete an assignment.

What are your best practice suggestions for using WebAssign?

I try to use WebAssign in a low risk/high reward setting.  Meaning, I don’t want to penalize a student for trying to learn the material. Students are going to make mistakes along the way and that’s okay.  I want WebAssign to be the place where they can make mistakes, ask questions, learn from it, and get credit for doing so.  There are plenty of other components of a student’s grade (quizzes, exams, etc.) that are higher risk.  I try to use WebAssign to prepare them for those other situations.

What led to the creation of your app “A Little Calculus”?

calc appWhen I was in graduate school, I started creating interactive content (CGI scripts, JavaScripts, Java applets) for demonstration purposes in the classroom that could also be viewed outside of class using any web browser.  Things like an interactive Spirograph machine, a Galton board illustrating the binomial distribution, and a demonstration of the Monty Hall problem were my favorites.  My advisor, Adriano Garsia, taught undergraduate courses in Cryptography, Computer Graphics, and Probability, so most of the content was geared towards those topics.  I really have to give him a lot of credit for coming up with exciting ways to present mathematics, which always translated very well into interactive demonstrations on the computer.  And I loved the fact that we could make all of this content available on the web for anyone to use.  The responses we got (and still get to this day) from all over the world told us we were doing something useful.

When I started working at Penn State, my primary responsibility was to teach first year calculus courses, so I turned my attention to creating applets centered around the topics of derivatives and integrals.  Over the years, I built up quite a collection of applets and was having my students use them to complete their homework.  When the iPad came out in 2010, I realized it was the best way to interact with all of the content I had already developed.  Unfortunately, Java applets don’t work on an iPad, so I began work on what eventually became “A Little Calculus.”

How do you incorporate your app into your classroom/teaching?

I’ve primarily used the app for introducing new topics.  For example, when I introduce the idea of secant and tangent lines, I ask my students to draw a curve on a piece of paper, pick a point on the curve, and then imagine what the curve looks like if they could zoom in on the curve at that point.  Once my students have a picture in their mind, then I do the same experiment using the app, but I can literally zoom in on the curve and they can see that sometimes the curve looks like a line, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Then to approximate the slope, if it exists, the computer can draw a secant line through a second point on the curve.  By dragging the second point closer to the point of tangency, I can introduce the student to the notion of a limit.  Mathematics is filled with so many beautiful ideas that can sometimes be difficult to express with a static picture. That’s when I bring the app into the classroom.

A Little Calculus App

From your perspective, what does your app do?

My hope is that it will be something both students and teachers of calculus will find useful.  I didn’t want to create an app that was simply a list of formulas or a way to obtain solutions to homework problems. Those apps already exist and I didn’t want to go down that path.  I wanted something that would emphasize the ideas behind calculus. Something that students could pick up, play with, and perhaps discover some of those ideas for themselves or use to verify their own solution to a problem while at the same time emphasizing the fundamental concepts.

I also didn’t want to dictate how a teacher would use it.  I’ve tried to include many different options for how to display each topic. Hopefully, by allowing the input of virtually any function, teachers can present what they want to show their students, and not just the specific examples that I found interesting.

Learn more about David’s app here!

15 Anniversaries for our 15th Anniversary: 4/21 – 4/27

To celebrate WebAssign’s 15th anniversary, each Monday we will be bringing you 15 anniversaries in science, technology, mathematics, and education that you can look forward to throughout the week. Here are some important dates in history coming up this week:

April 21

1774 – French physicist, mathematician, and astronomer Jean-Baptiste Biot is born. Biot and his colleague Félix Savart study the phenomenon whereby the placement of a magnetic compass near a vertical wire carrying an electrical current causes the compass to move. The subsequent creation of the Biot-Savart law is one of the early contributions to the consolidation of the scientific theories of electricity and magnetism, which came to be called electromagnetism.

1992 – Astronomers Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail announce the discovery of the first planets outside of our solar system. The discovery is made by observing irregularities in the pulses of pulsar B1257+12. The pulses emitted by pulsars are emitted at very precise intervals. Wolszczan and Frail determine the irregularities in the pulses of B1257+12 are caused by the gravitational pull of nearby planets. In the following 21 years, scientists will discover 871 confirmed extrasolar planets.

April 22

1876 – Austro-Hungarian otologist Róbert Bárány is born. Bárány is awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the physiology of the vestibular system in the inner ear. Bárány’s contributions to the understanding of how humans experience balance and proprioception allow for the treatment of balance disorders.

1904 – American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer is born. Oppenheimer is appointed as the scientific director of the Manhattan Project’s laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico during World War II.

1909 – Italian neurologist Rita Levi-Montalcini is born. Levi-Montalcini receives the Nobel Prize for her discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF), one of the first growth factors discovered.

1993 – The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) releases version 1.0 of the Mosaic web browser. Mosaic is usable on Windows and Mac operating systems, and is instrumental in popularizing the internet. Within two years, Mosaic captures 53% of the market share for web browsers.

April 23

1858 – German physicist Max Planck is born. From his work on black-body radiation, Planck postulates that the energy from light is proportional to its frequency. Planck’s postulate is the foundation of quantum mechanics, and inspires Albert Einstein to study the photoelectric effect.

April 24

1800 – President John Adams signs legislation to establish the United States Library of Congress.

1947 – American chemist Roger Kornberg is born. Kornberg receives the Nobel Prize for his work understanding the genetic process of transcription. Transcription of the genetic information from DNA to RNA is the first step in the process of gene expression.

1990 – The Hubble Space Telescope is launched from the Space Shuttle Discovery during the NASA mission STS-31. The images and data produced by Hubble result in the publication of over 9,000 papers in peer-reviewed journals.

April 25

1874 – Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi is born. Marconi receives the Nobel Prize for his work on radio transmission.

1900 – Austrian physicist Wolgang Ernst Pauli is born. Pauli receives the Nobel Prize for his quantum mechanical exclusion principle.

1961 – American engineer Robert Noyce is granted a patent for the integrated circuit. The integrated circuit, or microchip, is found in nearly every modern electronic device.

April 26

1785 – French-American naturalist John James Audubon is born. Audubon seeks to document as many American birds as possible, discovers 25 new species, and produces a color-plate book The Birds of America. Audubon’s high standards and artistry inspire future ornithological research and conservation.

1803 – Thousands of rocks inexplicably fall from the sky in L’Aigle, France. A young scientist Jean-Baptiste Biot is sent to investigate. Biot’s study of these fallen rocks provides the first solid evidence of the existence of meteorites.

Friday Funny!

physics meme

Have a good science/math/teaching joke? We want to hear them!

15 Anniversaries for our 15th Anniversary: 4/14 – 4/20

To celebrate WebAssign’s 15th anniversary, each Monday we will be bringing you 15 anniversaries in science, technology, mathematics, and education that you can look forward to throughout the week. Here are some important dates in history coming up this week:

April 14

1629 – Dutch mathematician, physicist, and astronomer Christiaan Huygens is born. Huygens formulates the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration, commonly known as Newton’s Second Law of Motion, as well as the formula describing centripetal force. Huygens dabbles in the wave nature of light, and invents the precursor to all modern image projectors, the magic lantern. Huygens invents the first pendulum clock, and also is the first to derive the formula for the period of an ideal pendulum.  Huygens studies the rings of Saturn, and discovers the first of its moons, Titan.

1950 – American physician and geneticist, Francis Collins, is born. Collins is later the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute during the Human Genome Project. As of this writing, Collins is currently the director of the National Institutes of Health.

2003 – The Human Genome Project is completed with nearly all of the human genome sequenced to a high degree of accuracy. The project is completed two years earlier than planned.

April 15

1452 – Italian Renaissance polymath, Leonardo da Vinci, is born. da Vinci is remembered as one of the most diversely talented people who has ever lived. His understanding of the natural sciences enables him to produce beautifully articulate drawings of human anatomy, botany, physics, cartography, geometry, and engineering.

1707 – Swiss mathematician, Leonhard Euler, is born. Through publication of his many textbooks on the subject, Euler develops much of the contemporary language and notation used to describe mathematics. He is the first to introduce the concept of a mathematical function, and also produces a number and identity which bear his name.

1817 – The American School for the Deaf opens in Hartford, Connecticut. Founded by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc, the school is the oldest permanent school for the deaf in the United States.

1907 – Dutch ethologist Nikolass “Niko” Tinbergen is born. Tinbergen creates a framework for categorizing animal behavior, and later shares the Nobel Prize for his work.

1943 – American physician Robert Lefkowitz is born. Lefkowitz’s work on G protein-coupled receptors earn him the Nobel Prize. G protein-coupled receptors are membrane receptors unique to eukaryotes, and allow cells to sense and respond to the environment outside of the cell. Because they are involved in many important physiological processes, G protein-coupled receptors are the target of about 40% of all modern pharmaceuticals.

April 16

1867 – American bicycle salesman and inventor Wilbur Wright is born. Wilbur, along with his brother Orville, invents a method of controlling an aircraft in three dimensions, which leads to the first powered fixed-wing aircraft.

April 17

1970 – NASA’s Apollo 13 crew safely return to earth after the mission was aborted due to the explosion of an oxygen tank.

April 18

1940 – American physician and biochemist Joseph Goldstein is born. Goldstein later shares the Nobel prize with his colleague Michael Brown for their discovery of low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Low-density lipoprotein is involved in the buildup of cholesterol in the walls of blood vessels. Goldstein’s research leads to the development of the cholesterol-reducing statin drugs for the treatment of atherosclerosis.

April 19

1912 – American nuclear chemist Glenn Seaborg is born. Seaborg develops the concept of the actinide series on the modern periodic table, and is involved in the discovery of nine of the actinide elements, including plutonium. Seaborg discovers over a hundred isotopes, providing the foundation for nuclear medicine.

1971 – The Soviet Union launches the Salyut 1, the first space station.

April 20

1745 – French physician Philippe Pinel is born. At a time when psychiatric patients are poorly treated, Pinel and his colleague Jean-Baptiste Pussin reform the treatment of patients in psychiatric hospitals by suggesting that they be treated humanely. Pinel seeks to classify the various psychiatric conditions, setting the foundation for modern psychiatry.

1862 – The first pasteurization tests are completed by Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard.

Friday Funny!

math raccoon

Have a better math/science/teaching joke than this one? Send it in here to be posted as one of our Friday Funnies!