- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2001

English logician and philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in 1917, "The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry."

A former teacher with no Web-design experience has taken this quotation to heart and started a one-woman crusade to make mathematics a dazzling display of fun. Trying to concentrate less on the mundane and more on the fantastic, her cyber-stop turns the study of numbers and relationships into an eye-popping adventure.

Math Cats

Site address: www.mathcats.com

Creator:

Math Cats, based in Bethesda, sprang to life on the Web in late September through the solo efforts of Wendy Petti.

Creator quotable: "I created Math Cats to stimulate children's creative explorations with math, not for drill and practice. I'd like children to use math in new and exciting ways, such as creating geometric designs," Mrs. Petti says.

"I also post the simple procedures used to create most of the MicroWorlds Logo projects, hoping some children will try their hand at programming in this easy, powerful language. After many years as a classroom teacher, I've got a lot of creative ideas to share with parents and teachers as well as children."

Creator quotable:

"I created Math Cats to stimulate children's creative explorations with math, not for drill and practice. I'd like children to use math in new and exciting ways, such as creating geometric designs," Mrs. Petti says.

"I also post the simple procedures used to create most of the MicroWorlds Logo projects, hoping some children will try their hand at programming in this easy, powerful language. After many years as a classroom teacher, I've got a lot of creative ideas to share with parents and teachers as well as children."

Word from the Webwise:

Before visiting this site, users should do two things. First, they should make sure they are using an up-to-date browser Internet Explorer or Netscape versions 4 or higher with plenty of computer memory.

Second, they should download and install the MicroWorlds Web Player plug-in. The installation could be a bit tricky depending on the computer. I suggest reading all of the instructions carefully. Visitors will need this plug-in to enjoy about 40 percent of the site's activities.

Those brave enough to continue will find a world of numbers in perpetual motion that spends as much time boggling the mind as filling the cranium with information.

The opening page loads math-related questions on a chalkboard. To reveal the answer, simply wave the mouse's cursor over the randomly placed letters in the center of the board. The letters magically move together and form the answers to nuggets such as "What is the math term for a polyhedron shaped like a soccer ball?" (A truncated icosahedron.)

Almost 100 other questions grouped by subjects such as "Math in Astronomy" or "Math in History" can be found under the "Math Cats Attic" archive.

The site's two main sections sport a feline motif and use mainly computer-based magic to demonstrate real-world applications of numbers.

A stop by "Math Cats Explore the World" reveals 14 activities featuring calculators, random generators and the artistic uses of shapes, patterns and symmetry. Just exploring the list of items can produce a giggle as a floating, blinking cat head follows the cursor around the page.

The infamous "Math Cats Loves MicroWorlds" section provides 19 applications using the plug-in mentioned above. Some impressive simulations include a money-counting activity using currency art elements that can be dragged to an area and counted automatically, a coin-flipping demonstration showing probability, and a game using a grid to illustrate multiplication problems.

Ease of use:

Mrs. Petti understands that her site might be a bit taxing on certain browser or computer configurations and clearly spells out potential conflicts before visitors try to load an activity. Overall, she is off to an impressive start, and I would expect unbelievable things from Math Cats by this time next year.

Don't miss:

Stop by Mrs. Petti's newest adventure, Tesselation Town on Tile Island. In a faraway land in the seas of same, if you know where to look, you will find a tiny town on a tiny island, where the sky is blue and everything fits together perfectly. This prologue leads explorers to areas that can be formed or arranged using multisided icons in a checkered or mosaic pattern. A blank pallet is presented with a set of colored elements, which, when dragged into place, create a pretty picture. The art-gallery element grabbed from an M.C. Escher creation was really fun to manipulate.

Family activity:

Teachers should stop by the "Idea Bank" for loads of concepts from fellow educators on a wide variety of math concepts. Parents might have their children create geometric space forms called polyhedra using a compass, straight edge, stiff paper, scissors, glue or rubber cement, yarn and paper clips. Children will learn, with the help of Fatso the cat, how to make tetrahedrons, hexahedrons, octahedrons, decahedrons and icosahedrons.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

The hard-core math student will not find many deep educational opportunities here, but creative children learning about the applications of mathematics will love the site. The child in me spent hours making virtual spirographs and exploding math art while learning a bit about graphing and wave theory.

Overall grade: A-

Remember: The information on the Internet is changing 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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