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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Review: "Mathematical World"

Full Title: Mathematical World, Exploring Mathematics through Photographic Images
by Richard Phillips, published by Key Curriculum Press, 2005

My school purchased this CD for $31.95 through

Why I ordered it: I want to use more photos and videos with my classroom projector, I really do. But I have a crappy digital camera, no camcorder, and I am usually not observant enough to take good pictures, anyway. And when I do see something promising, I never have my camera. So when I saw this CD that promised "185 full-color photographs [to] stimulate curiosity and challenge students to reflect on the mathematics at work in the world around them", I high-tailed it over to the department secretary and asked her to order it for me.

In a nutshell, the CD delivers with its sheer quantity of winning photographs that any math teacher would be able to put to good use.

When you put it in your CD drive it starts up its own little program which you use to browse, search, show a "large" version of each picture, and print pictures.

The Goods

  • You can browse thumbnails of all the photos easily.
  • Easy to print a hard copy of a single photo.

  • All the pictures are high quality and are clear when projected on my screen. What you want the learner to be able to see is easy to see.

  • Most of the photos have what I would consider an acceptable level of difficulty and interesting-ness for high school. I'm not sure it would be as useful for middle school.

  • Pictures have cultural and international flair including architecture, signage, storefronts, and measuring devices. Example:

(I know I'm breaking ToS or EULA or whatevs here, but a review without at least a few examples would be ridiculous, and I tried to copy a really small, low-quality version that wouldn't be very useful. Don't steal this. Go buy the CD. Also, if anyone yells at me to take these down, I totally will. But I hope you don't mind the free advertising.)

  • For many concepts, there are several pictures using the same concept with varying difficulty. Example:

I quickly scanned the pictures and tried to group them into categories. Some of these are overlapping, but here goes: tesselations, symmetry, rotational symmetry, proportion, solids & volume, angles, "guess what this sign in another country is trying to tell you", measuring devices & instruments, sundials, fibonacci in nature, 3dimensional packing, "find the pattern, write a rule, and extend", perspective & vanishing point, comparative measurements, estimation, slope/rate of change, circles.

The Annoyings

  • The commentary and suggested questions that come with the pictures are on the lame side. Because they are either just stupid ("How many right angles do you see?"), but mostly because they give away the store ("The bottom layer is a 16x16 square!")

  • The search functionality is limited. If you don't happen to search for the first word in the title the publisher gave the photo, you are out of luck. Photo browsing doesn't seem to be organized by concept or any other method. This just means you will have to scan the thumbnails to find what you are looking for. Not that big a deal, to me.

  • There is no easy way to copy the pictures digitally, for obvious rights-management reasons, I suppose, but it makes it hard to, say, superimpose a scale or grid. You will have to rely on some method of screen capture if you'd like to use the photos anywhere else on your computer.

  • You have to have the CD to run the program. No installing it to your hard drive or shared drive.

Worth the money. Buy it.