MICA program introduces students to brand new world of mathematics

Brock University’s innovative approach to bringing mathematics education into the 21st century has garnered international acclaim and continues to remain at the forefront of the field.

The MICA (Mathematics Integrated with Computers and Applications) program was the subject of a paper published in a recent edition of Mathematics Today. The paper titled Through the Looking-Glass; Programming Interactive Environments for Advanced Mathematics was penned by professors Eric Muller and Chantal Buteau of Brock University along with Ana Isabel Sacristan of Cinvestav, Mexico.

MICA, a unique approach to teaching mathematical concepts through the use of computer programming, enables students to bring math concepts to life and experiment with any mathematical conjectures they wish to explore. Examples of past work include educational tools, mathematical simulators and financial analysis programs.

The article compares the classic Lewis Carroll novel to the MICA program where, much like Alice, students must climb through a looking-glass into a brand new world of mathematics.

“It just goes to show how Brock has been, and continues to be, a leader in programming and math education,” says Buteau, Associate Professor, who is currently teaching MATH 1P40, better known as MICA I.

At the time of its inception 15 years ago, MICA consisted of 2.5 credits stretched over three years, which would begin to teach mathematical coding to students and allow them to create their own interactive digital environments. 

Over time, the courses have evolved to service the needs of future mathematicians, statisticians and math educators.

In 2014, the innovative approach was cited during the International Constructionism and Creativity conference held in Vienna when Professor Dame Celia Hoyles, President of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), commented that the Brock courses were “inspiring” and worth sharing in the math community  as an example of “what can be done at the undergraduate level.”

Buteau said Brock’s MICA courses continue to be some of the most innovative undergraduate courses in Canada, and with computational thinking being discussed at current curriculum talks, it could help usher in a new wave of mathematics education and pedagogy, using experience to prove it can be done. 

“We have been doing this now for 15 years, we are constantly improving the courses to meet the needs of today’s learner. We know what works, and what needs work,” she said.

The department recently adjusted its MICA courses.  MATH 2F40, or MICA II, was recently split from a full-year course into MATH 2P40 and then either MATH 3P40 or MATH 3P41.

Starting in the next school year, MATH 3P40, will be open to all science students (who have a C++ prerequisite), and will cover broader, more advanced scientific simulation and modeling, while MATH 3P41 will focus more on creating interactive and dynamic mathematics representations and modeling useful for future teachers in the classroom.

The MICA courses continue to push the envelope in mathematics education and scientific research.

“MICA is not just coding for the sake of coding . . . it is coding for the sake of doing math differently,” Buteau said.

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