- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2001

U.S. Department of Education statistics say 83 percent of students who take algebra and geometry go on to college, but of the students who don't take those courses, only 36 percent continue into college.
Numbers also have unlimited applications in the real world. They can be used to calculate a favorite baseball player's batting average, measure how much sugar belongs in a cookie recipe or determine the angle at which the space shuttle re-enters the atmosphere.
A site that seeks to make mathematics not only fun, but practical provides a wealth of problems to help students enjoy one of their most important but also most challenging school subjects.

FIGURE THIS

Site address: www.figurethis.org

Creator:

Figurethis.org is a joint project of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering and Widmeyer Communications. It is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation.

Creator quotable:

"Figurethis.org was created to enhance learning about math outside of the classroom and to engage parents and their children with fun, real-world math challenges," says Scott Widmeyer, chairman and chief executive officer of Widmeyer Communications. "Not only does the Web site help to stimulate learning in off-school hours, but it also helps to convey to children how math plays a role in their everyday lives and ultimately in their future success."

Word from the Webwise:

Created as part of a national campaign to increase math achievement among middle schoolers, the site mixes colorful pages, animated answers and a wide variety of disciplines to present an abundance of opportunities to stimulate interest in numbers.
As the opening page loads, the cartoon characters Polygon, Tessellation, Exponent, Tangent and Axis beckon children to enter a world where algebra, geometry, addition, subtraction and multiplication rule.
Clicking on any of the new friends offers the site's three latest challenges which recently were "Is this dice game fair or not?" (working with probability), "Do women live longer than men?" (conjectures about numerical relationships) and "Are there two people in your school with the same initials?" (help with large numbers and notation). Twenty-six question modules exist already, and creators hope to present 80 by the end of the year.
Each challenge features a description of the math involved, a blurb on how the problem can be used in the real world, a hint for getting started, a solution, a "Try These" section with additional, related problems and answers, questions to think about, fun facts, and resources for further investigation.
Instead of choosing one of the current problems, I snuck over to "Challenge Index" and tried to answer this tempting question: "What's round, hard and sold for $3 million?" The answer, of course, is Mark McGwire's 70th-home-run ball, which was sold to comic-book entrepreneur Todd McFarlane in 1999.
The challenge involves comparing Mr. McFarlane's investment with a Babe Ruth ball that could have been purchased in 1927 for $3,000. Who got the better value, based on the premise that investments double every seven years?
This exploration of compound interest is solved with a bit of multiplication magic. The fictional owner of the Ruth ball gets the better deal by $72,000. The module also contains links to the Baseball Hall of Fame and additional questions on earning interest.

Ease of use:

Figurethis.org uses a nice array of Web technologies Shockwave, Flash and Javascript to disseminate its message about the importance of math. Each lesson or question can be printed out in portable document format to allow children to spend lots of time away from the computer thinking about numbers. Additionally, the site has tutorials on using the proper software and plug-ins to get the most out of its animated pages.
Don't miss: Parents should stop by the "Family Corner" for tips and help in honing their child's arithmetic skills and monitoring a teacher's progress as he or she educates their youngster. An area on incorporating classic literature with problem-solving may offer another way to stimulate a reluctant student to learn numerical theory.

Family activity:

Considering that the challenges not only are printable, but deal with real-life situations, the entire family will find plenty to take away from the computer. For example, the tasty "Fill It Up" problem involves putting popcorn into two sheets of paper one rolled into a short cone and one rolled into a lengthwise cone. Children must determine which container holds more popcorn. I won't reveal the answer, but it involves an understanding of fractions, surface area, volume and circle theory.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

Visitors may find some of the problems a bit overwhelming, but thanks to the incredible selection and diversity, a challenge can be found to engage any child's interests, including Beanie Babies, chocolate-covered cookies and basketball.

Overall grade: A+

Remember: The information on the Internet changes constantly. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician. Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002, call 202/636-3016 or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).


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