Brock integrating computer programming into mathematics education

As Chantal Buteau, Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics notes, “Few post-secondary mathematics programs address the 21st century need by adapting the curricula to combine mathematics and computer programming.”

Brock is the exception.

Educators at Brock University are working outside the traditional ‘paper and pencil’ box and teaching their students how to tap into the power of computers to model, simulate, visualize and choose the best alternatives in calculations.

“It’s using computer programming as an instrument to engage in mathematics investigations,” says Buteau. “It’s taking a scientific, experimental approach to mathematics: asking questions, conjecturing, testing math problems or applications with programming and seeing the outcomes through computer simulations, then further tweaking the problem or model to continue the math work.”

Buteau teaches in the sequence of Brock’s Mathematics Integrated with Computers and Applications (MICA) undergraduate courses. Created in 2000 under the leadership of fellow mathematician, Bill Ralph, this sequence of MICA courses is the only one of its kind in Canada.

“It’s really outstanding that Bill Ralph and the Department of Mathematics had that vision ahead of their time,” she says, adding it’s only recently that integration of coding in school curricula around the world has started to increase.

Buteau is heading a research team, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), to study how MICA students learn to use computer coding for their mathematical investigations.

The issue is not just academic. She notes that a number of mathematicians are already taking this approach and that “it seems natural to expose our students with this cutting-edge way of doing mathematics.”

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