Interactive book-app awakens interest in mathematics

You may be a math slouch, but the new tablet app "Mathema" could soon change all that. The app, developed by researchers at the Universities of Fribourg and Geneva, was co-financed by the SNSF's Agora funding scheme, which is dedicated to science communication and fostering dialogue between researchers and the general public.

​A book app called Mathema aims to show people what mathematics is really all about by letting them explore mathematics in an innovative immersive way as it lets the reader experience the subject through activities and games. Hugo Parlier from the Mathematics department at the University of Fribourg and Paul Turner from Geneva University were in charge of the project, which was co-financed by the SNSF's Agora funding scheme. "Thanks to multimedia technology, Mathema users can experience and understand just what makes math so exciting to mathematicians - active learning is the catchword," says Parlier, holder of an SNSF professorship. “The mathematical processes we illustrate come from research level mathematics. But readers shouldn't be afraid: the whole goal of Mathema is to be widely accessible and it doesn't require any prior knowledge to be appreciated.”

Irrational fear of numbers

Another project goal is to dispel the widespread prejudice that mathematicians are people who sit at their desks all night brooding over formulae. "Modern mathematics are related to nearly all advances in science. We also want to show that maths is very different from what people often imagine. It's a world of great beauty and is intrinsically interesting.” Many people are afraid of maths, often due to negative experiences at school. "We hope the tablet format will give people a chance to experience mathematics without coming under the critical eye of teachers, parents or friends."

Pictures, videos and games

The book-app explains the presented mathematical phenomena in detail. Images and videos lead up to the solutions with users being invited to follow each step and think ahead. Mathema is suitable for any interested person over the age of 14. Only the English version is available for now but the French version is due to be released in the coming months. It can be downloaded in the app store for CHF 10.

Games to awaken interest

Hugo Parlier and Paul Turner plan to hold workshops and give lectures that will enable members of the public to try out aspects of Mathema. A version of the application will also be made available to science museums as soon as possible. Earlier, in the app's development phase, the authors held workshops with college students and math teachers in an effort to find out how an intrinsic interest in finding solutions to mathematical problems can be awakened. "It's amazing how a simple combinatorial game can get participants excited about questions which quickly turn into genuine mathematics. Sparking curiosity is key in any learning process and maths is no exception." says Parlier. And the visual appeal of well-designed tablet games can be a source of motivation, even for young people struggling with the subject, to participate in the experience of mathematics.