“Why do we have to learn this?”
This is the question more and more students are asking. It is a measure of their lack of engagement. It is the question we built What if Math to answer. We put the power of spreadsheets into the hands of students to engage them in real-world digital age problem solving to build digital age skills in data science, financial literacy, computer science, and STEM problems.
What if Math is a reinvention of our mathematics curriculum. Today’s K-12 curriculum was defined in the year 1202 by Leonardo of Pisa to give merchants and traders a better system for doing their math. It is obsolete. Our computers do the algorithms for us, and business is no longer primarily about solving equations. We use spreadsheets and functional thinking. What if Math is built entirely on spreadsheets, designed to enable students to learn math on a functional foundation and to learn to use spreadsheets and functional thinking that is demanded by 21st century business.
Spreadsheets are wonderful tools for exploring math, that’s why we think of them as laboratories. You have all the power to explore, to try, to challenge yourself and other students to find new and different ways to solve problems. Spreadsheets are function machines. They let you look at problems and data as tables, graphs, formulas, and even visualizations.
What are Labs?
We call our spreadsheet lessons “Labs”. They are single-concept experiments, opportunities to ask “What if…”. Designed to take a class period, they are all open-ended and nearly all end with “What if…” questions that students can explore into any depth and breadth they want.
What are Explorations?
Explorations are problem-solving projects based on what Einstein called “proper questions.” They involve students in collaborative real-world activities that use functional thinking, spreadsheets, data science, and computer science. They are designed and built by teachers to create a shared library for students.
How will students learn?
What if Math is a new way for you to learn. Our lessons are Labs designed for you to use on your own or in a small group. Your laboratory is a spreadsheet, most any spreadsheet on your computer, tablet, or cell. Our Labs are designed for real spreadsheets, the kind used today by business, science, and mathematicians, for you to learn not only math, problem solving, and functional thinking but how to be a maven on spreadsheets.
How do we support teachers?
If you are a teacher you are welcome to use spreadsheet math with your classes. We recommend you try some these spreadsheet Labs on your own, become familiar with them, explore and experiment. As you become more familiar with What if Math Labs, you may choose to open them up to your students in your classes, in a variety of ways. We use the Lesson Study model in which teachers share developing new lessons and support each others interactive pedagogy.
How will students be coding?
Coding is the new term for what we used to call programming. Spreadsheets are programming platforms. They give us the same thrill that writing computer code does. As a student builds a spreadsheet, tests it out, and makes it do what they want it to do, they are programming. For advanced students spreadsheets have most of the tools they will find in programming languages and they will learn much of the methodology needed to understand computing, programming, and the Internet by working with them.
How are we Student-Centered?
We strive to make learning mathematics a truly student-centered activity. This means to us that students must seek answers to most of the questions they have, to work with fellow students, to use the web, or to keep trying until they solve the problem. Using spreadsheets to learn math is a new idea, teachers should not be expected to know how to solve these problems! Students should be challenged to figure or find it out!