Hundreds of problems reside online at the Math Forum, a rapidly expanding online community for teachers, students, and anyone else interested in math.
One of the Math Forum's distinguishing features is its Problem of the Week. What started seven years ago as a weekly question intended to challenge geometry students has grown into a weekly array of questions that range from elementary and middle school math to trigonometry and calculus.
In those early days, receiving 30 student responses was considered a good week. Now, several thousand answers arrive weekly, and all receive comments via e-mail from the Math Forum staff or volunteer mentors.
"The goal is to give the students a problem that not only has an answer that might be interesting but also has a variety of solution paths," says the Math Forum's Annie Fetter, who has been posing such problems since 1993.
"It's the students' explanations that we're really interested in. We look for thorough explanations. And if they aren't thorough, we'll send them back to the students and say, 'You really need to explain how you figured this out because that's what's important."
Along the way, the written word takes on as much importance as mathematical symbols.
"There needs to be more writing and communicating in the math classroom," Fetter observes. "There's a pretty good chance that if you can write a good explanation, you actually understand the math. In a lot of instances, students can apply some theorems and some equations and get the right answer, but they may not really know how the things work."
Math Is Cool
"They can take their parents there or tell other people, 'I got credit for math, and my name is on the Internet for doing something good,'" notes Fetter.
More importantly, she adds, students who feel uneasy about being good at math have an outlet where they can be creative and have people outside of school recognize their efforts.
"You really get remarkable access to kids out there who are excited about math. You'll receive an answer to a problem where a student took a long time to make an animated picture of things that float across the screen and answer a question so thoroughly that you want to share it with everyone in the office. And all this from someone only 12!"
Growing Community Online