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SimCalc: The Design of Software for Teaching Calculus in Middle School
PARC Forum

11 April 2002
George E. Pake Auditorium

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The mathematics that people need to thrive in the 21st century keeps advancing in complexity, yet our schools keep falling farther behind. As a society, we need to make significant changes in this area. The SimCalc Project is tackling the problem of democratic access to more complex mathematics through an approach that brings together: (1) previously untapped learner strengths, (2) the radically new representational capabilities of computers, and (3) a reorganized curricular sequence to enable all students (but particularly less advantaged, urban youth) to master calculus concepts beginning in middle school. Through eight years of National Science Foundation research we have refined this approach and have begun to explore the conditions that will enable scale up. A key piece of our strategy has been porting SimCalc from expensive desktop computers to increasingly affordable graphing calculators and handhelds.

This presentation will focus on the design theory behind SimCalc and some examples of how teachers and students use the software, especially the newer versions on the Palm Pilot. While SimCalc and similar software tools show great promise in addressing important educational needs, the educational system presents serious challenges to wide scale adoption. I will discuss the key challenges of access to technology, teacher professional development, curricular integration, and standards-based assessment.


Jeremy Roschelle's work focuses on the design of educational software, aiming to democratize access to challenging math and science concepts by leveraging the unique representational qualities of computer graphics. As a PARC intern in 1986, he developed the Envisioning Machine, a simulation of velocity and acceleration vectors that helped students connect the "observable world" and the "newtonian world." Jeremy received his Ph.D. in Cognitive Science and Education from Berkeley in 1991. He has worked at the Institute for Research on Learning, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and the University of Massachusetts (from an SF home office). For the past four years, he has worked at SRI International's Center for Technology in Learning. Besides SimCalc and the Envisioning Machine, Jeremy is known for his work on the video analysis tools "VideoNoter" and "CVideo," research on collaborative learning, leadership of the ESCOT educational component software project, and leading research work with handheld and wireless educational computing.