From 1999-2002, Making Mathematics middle and high school students,
teachers, and professional mathematicians collaborated via the Internet on
open-ended mathematics research projects. Our students ranged in age
from 8 to 18, and they hailed from all over the world—from Istanbul, Italy, the
Fiji Islands, the United States, and many other countries. They worked on projects
individually or as part of their mathematics classes, and they produced
impressive results. They tackled mathematics projects
in number theory, advanced geometry, combinatorics, calculus, and probability
as well as mathematical disciplines not often taught in high school
(for a list of projects and student reports, see www2.edc.org/makingmath/mathproj.asp).
Students with all kinds of mathematics backgrounds and abilities were welcome to participate.
Making Mathematics projects are extended, open-ended investigations in
which students actively defined their goals and methods. Typically,
students worked on one project for an hour or more a week over
several months. During this period, they also communicated via
electronic mail with a professional mathematician who mentored their work.
Making Mathematics mentors were graduate students in mathematics
or professional mathematicians who worked in
industry or academia. Mentors submitted references before
they were accepted into Making Mathematics. They also participated in an
online training program that allowed Making Mathematics
staff to get to know them before they were connected with students.
Making Mathematics was intended to provide a kind of mathematical
learning experience that most children will never encounter in schools.
Our projects inspired students to generate ideas, discover patterns,
pose questions, develop conjectures, and build proofs of mathematical claims.
Students got a chance to practice basic skills in the service of
pursuing a larger, more interesting question. They learned that
mathematics is not so much a body of facts to be memorized as
a creative, growing research discipline to which they could contribute.
And they also got a chance to communicate with real mathematicians—to
see what they do everyday, how they chose their careers, and what they
love about the mathematical discipline they serve.
We took special precautions to keep children safe as they
communicated with mentors over the Internet. Besides screening and training all
mentors, we also monitored all correspondence. We encouraged children, parents, and mentors
to contact us at any time.