Spring 2008 |
Meet Charlie. He´s four inches tall. He has two wheels. And at just
two pounds, he definitely isn´t the quintessential teaching assistant.
But Charlie is bigger than his size implies, and MCC math instructor Mel
Mays is sure to share Charlie´s talents with his Beginning Algebra
Charlie rolls into the classroom ready to help Mays introduce the Cartesian
coordinate system by illustrating the location of points via their x,y
coordinates. He also helps demonstrate how to plot the corresponding point
onto the rectangular coordinate system. When given an ordered pair, Charlie
can also indicate the existence and usefulness of rational and irrational
numbers over and above the tendency to only utilize the integers in real
It´s a pretty large sounding role for a small TekBot, but Charlie was
built by Mays just for such lessons. The students gather to mark the classroom
floor with masking tape to create a grid. With the x and y axes created, the
students form a circle around the taped floor. Mays sets Charlie down on the
linoleum, asks for a set of coordinates, and it´s show time for
"Negative one, four!" a student contributes. Charlie sets off in
the direction indicated by the ordered pair (-1, 4) on the masking tape grid.
Mays expertly guides him to the correct spot with a handheld control. The
exercise continues, with each student taking the helm and applying their
understanding of this mathematical concept. Mays smiles and nods, proud of his
students and Charlie´s popularity.
"The ability to determine the position of a point in a twodimensional
plane and to plot points—ordered pairs—is a basic requirement at
the very beginning levels of algebra instruction that assists students in
understanding many of the algebraic concepts to be presented," Mays said.
"Some students do not easily grasp these concepts from having them
presented on a board in the front of the room. A moving artifact, such as a
TekBot, can be used to show these in a hands-on, real-world scale
Charlie has been a work in teaching progress that Mays began in the summer
of 2006 while taking a seminar and graduate course at the Peter Kiewit
Institute. For three weeks, Mays spent his mornings in classroom lectures and
his afternoons in a lab building his TekBot. Two weeks into the course,
Charlie´s construction was completed, and Mays spent the next week
focusing on incorporating Charlie into an educational environment. As a math
instructor teaching basic algebra, Mays ended up pairing Charlie with the
Cartesian coordinate system lesson, and all that was left was taking him to
Mays has also implemented Charlie in his statistics course to help students
collect values for a continuous random variable that they will analyze.
Organized in teams, the students run Charlie through an obstacle course to
generate data in a real-world environment (as opposed to simply using a data
set provided to them).
"The participation and competition engenders far more student interest
and involvement than just sitting in a sterile classroom environment,"
Mays brought Charlie to class this fall and winter quarters and plans on
doing so again in the spring. And Charlie´s presence has been well
received by his students overall.
"It was a neat thing!" said Adella Goff, one of Mays´
students. "Having Charlie help teach graphing ordered parts was an
interesting way to make learning more exciting. I, as many others, enjoy
visual learning and hands-on interaction. Charlie helped with both."