I had the wonderful opportunity this Election Day to participate in a Math for America professional development workshop entitled “Fostering a Love of Mathematics”. This workshop was run by Po-Shen Loh, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and lead coach for the USA International Math Olympiad Team. Po defines the word dynamic; he led a roomful of teachers through a series of challenging math problems (some competition level, like MATHCOUNTS or the AMC, others interesting musings on combinatorics and Fibonacci numbers), encouraging suggestions (he called it ‘crowd-sourced problem-solving’) and mapping out solutions with simple clarity and great enthusiasm. By the way, Po’s phone number [area code not incuded] is 314-1593. I think I want that phone number as well. But I digress….
After our problem-solving session, Po introduced us to the company he founded and runs as CEO, expii.com. Crowd-sourcing is not only a favorite strategy in problem-solving; for Po, it is the key to revolutionizing interactive education. Expii is a dynamic user-created science and mathematics textbook. Using a Wikipedia-type philosophy for creating content, expii allows users to create lessons (they are called ‘explanations’ on the website), write practice problems, comment on other lessons, or augment existing explanations. Even though the model for contributing to expii is Wikipedia, the tone of the website is less formal (albeit still curated and edited when necessary). Creating an account is easy (if you are over 13) and free, and an account is required for contributing content.
Po’s vision is of a multi-layered digital interactive textbook, one to which both students and teachers contribute. Under the curriculum direction of Michelle Newstadt (also a professor at University of Pittsburgh, expii has topic structures for a range of classes including Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, Algebra I and II, Geometry, and Calculus. Navigating from the main menu (see the Universe, left), one can easily drill down to specific topics of interest. Navigating back out from a topic to larger ideas is simple as well; Po draws an analogy between the design of his website and Google Earth.
After introducing us to expii, Michelle spent over an hour answering questions and eliciting suggestions from us for improving its utility. The team at expii wants the website to be widely used by teachers, and she explored specifically what improvements would make this a tool more likely to be used in a classroom. Po and Michelle are equally interested in work authored by students and teachers.
Expii is a recently started venture, and as such, many of the topics are not fully populated with explanations and exercises. When examining a particular topic, the extent to which it contains content is color-coded: green indicates a ‘healthy’ topic with at least two explanations; yellow, not quite so plump but with some content; and red – contributions still required. Algebra I and II are recently added courses, and thus need a lot of attention. Adding content to expii is relatively straightforward; the user can type their work directly into a window and simultaneously see its preview. A cheatsheet for using their easy editor (markup language) is available to guide the user through inserting practice questions, or embedding video, images, or plots. I can easily envision creating lessons of my own as well assigning submissions as a review assignment to students, alone or in pairs.
As I mentioned, the folks at expii are keenly interested in the widespread use and usefulness of this tool, and it will be as useful as its users make it. So I am encouraging, exhorting, and challenging you to go check out this website, and contribute some content. Or ask your students to. It’s free, it’s easy to use, and it is curated. Why not, #MTBoS?