In this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9sYzMG-43k) session Dan Meyer uses Excel, Google and Wolfram Alpha in a class (of teachers) for calculation. He himself uses them on a laptop projected for the class to see. The skills to use these tools are fairly basic - either natural language input or limited (in excel =A2^2, autofill, in wolfram alpha SUMMATION(13*n^2,1,40)).

Personally, I use Mathematica (on Raspberry Pi) as my go to. And I envisage using it some way in my classes in my future classes. Mathematica requires more know ledge of syntax, commands (often obscure, eg eqn/.x->{1,2,3}) than Google or Wolfram Alpha.

However, I worry that such use of higher level programming tools will bewilder and confuse my students.

What are guidelines for the use of such more specialised tools in a high school maths class?

Possibilities- Using Mathematica (or similar) in demostrations to the class. Having PCs in the class that students can use with Mathematica (or similar).


Some people have raised the cost of Mathematica and suggested free alternatives. I envisage having a few raspberry pis in class with mathematica. These could be used alongside excel, for example. So my question is really about: What is realistic to expect of students when it comes to using a software package?

If you see in the video google and wolfram alpha accept natural language and simple maths (13*40^2+13*39^2+...+13*1^2), but what more structured commands google and wolfram alpha will accept seems unclear. (Mathematica allows connection to wolfram alpha, I haven't tried it yet.) On the other hand Excel has it's own barriers, but it's fairly ubiquitous.

So it seems a balance between accessibility, cost, familiarity...

  • $\begingroup$ For a U.S. high school classroom I don't see this being possible unless it's a calculus class, and even for calculus classes it will likely be too much of a learning curve for students. However, this search of Math Forum's ap-calculus discussion group for "Mathematica" might give you some ideas. Incidentally, for something neat you could show them, see this 7 June 2006 sci.math post for code for a neat looking exponential sum graph. $\endgroup$ – Dave L Renfro Aug 12 '15 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ If you do want to have your students use a computer algebra system, an expensive, proprietary system like Mathematica seems like a poor choice. The school would have to pay a pile of money for licenses, and students wouldn't be able to do their homework at home. Why not just use Maxima, which is free and open-source? BTW, a lot of graphing calculators have symbolic math functionality, so your students may already be using a CAS, even if you don't know it. Wolfram Alpha is just a come-on to try to get you to buy Mathematica. $\endgroup$ – Ben Crowell Aug 13 '15 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ @pdmclean, you have to weigh your time to learn a new system against the cost of dozens of licenses. I'd wager the licenses are costlier... maxima and SAGE are open source (no cost). I even have both of them running on my (not-so-high-end) smartphone. On something like a Raspberry Pi you'll find them prepackaged with the Linux distribution. $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Aug 19 '15 at 23:55
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    $\begingroup$ "Having a few ... in class" is a step, but each student should have access to his/her own to fool around (that being the whole point, as I see), ideally to take home to work on their own (and even use in other classes where it fits). Yes, a CAS is overkill as a calculator, but being able to compute $100!$ or $ \binom{10}{3}$ at the drop of a hat has its uses... $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Aug 20 '15 at 2:10
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    $\begingroup$ If you "find it hard to overcome the hurdle of learning new systems", surely a substantial number of your students will, too... $\endgroup$ – Gerald Edgar Aug 21 '15 at 13:27

I used Mathematica in my High School Mathematics classroom, but not primarily as a computer algebra system, more as a programming language that happens to have excellent support for mathematical functions. What I mean by this is that my primary goal was to introduce my students to the logic of algorithms and give them a tool to use in and out of the mathematics classroom, not teach specific mathematical concepts. I did, however, find that once the pupils had the basic understanding of the syntax, they were able to enrich their understanding of topics, even if I had not specifically taught how to do this within Mathematica.

My resources are therefore more focussed on the nuts and bolts of using Mathematica, with some mathematical examples thrown in. You can download them here (and soon from the British STEM Centre e-library):


In addition, if you go down this route, I would be very interested to hear how you go about it, and what your results are!


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