Published: March 5, 2010

In field of research where numbers, equations, and charts usually appear on paper, applied mathematics professor Dr. John Flynt likes his math a little more visually interactive. To help construct his vision, Flynt recruited eight students to work in labs developing online visual Flash applications. As part of his program called Digital Explorations, he believes these applications enhance a student’s ability to learn mathematics.

Flynt explained the labs and how they relate to learning. “They are labs that involve constructing a tool for learning, and the tool for learning is a software apparatus. It can be a game, a simulation, an animation, or an interactive application.”

This program began last summer with a team of CU students and faculty members who created eight Flash applications. These were then transcribed as tutorials for 50 area high school students. Afterwards, the high school students re-built the applications with assistance from the CU students who originally built them.

One of the applications created for the summer program consisted of hurling a car over the moon, simulating trajectory as it displays an application of Pythagorean's theorem.

This semester, the project will continue but with a focus on creating Flash applications as learning tools for students in Calculus 1 and 2 courses at CU.

Dr. Flynt’s interest in finding a “universally flexible lab situation,” similar to a biology or chemistry lab, led him to construct the idea of a labs where math students could build simulations with mathematical applications for use in their own education, in addition to their peers’.

“The thing I found about using Flash is that it can build simulations that are visually appealing,” he continued, “that are not that difficult to program, but can still be fairly sophisticated.”

The students recruited to work in the labs range from sophomore undergraduate to graduate students, and are majoring in fine arts, design, environmental science, physics, mechanical engineering, and applied math.

Taking any where from one and a half to three hours to complete, the applications require a step-by-step process outlined in a lab-write up, similar to any science lab.

“For several years now, I’ve been trying to find more interactive ways…of involving people in science and math. Applied math is really about applying math in the sciences, in scientific and engineering communities,” Flynt said.

Dr. Flynt’s idea for using Flash as a tool for mathematical application may encourage students who are less comfortable with mathematics to approach math courses with a different perspective. The hands-on approach to learning is congruent with a majority of university science labs, as computers and Flash will replaces microscopes and Petri dishes as tools for learning.

Additionally, since the technology behind these Flash applications lends itself to different uses, its use will most likely extend beyond the Applied Mathematics Department and possibly inspire other professors to use similar applications in their courses.

Marcia Flynt, the Director of Operations and Finance for the Applied Mathematics Department, oversaw the application process for the labs. “We had well over 50 applications for these eight positions,” she explained.

There are four roles on the application team: a subject area specialist who understands the concrete math; a programmer; an artist; and a writer. Marcia Flynt explained that one of the goals of the labs is to create teams from different educational concentrations, proficiency levels, and ages.

“We are creating a context where these students can teach each other,” Marcia Flynt said.

Dr. Flynt has continued this program with the assistance of an ASSETT Development Award. He says that ASSETT also helped fund his previous summer program.  This has supported his long term goal to enhancing teaching in science and math.

“Right now our nation is trying to find ways to include more people in math and science, and to enhance the way we teach,” Flynt said. “Finding ways that people who are interested in teaching math and science can enhance their capacity to do so, is one goal I have in mind.”

Dr. Flynt says he would like the students to take the energy gained from their participation in the program to guide themselves in their collegiate studies.

“I want the students to gain confidence about what they can do with their skills and what they can do with the knowledge they are acquiring,” Dr. Flynt said.

-Written by Esteban L. Hernandez, CU ‘12, ASSETT Reporter