Can a 50 Year-Old Invention Help Teach Your Students Math?

You'd be surprised at what they might learn (and teach you) in the process.

A famous inventor once said, “The best solutions are always simple.” Perhaps he’s right.

Dr. Ivan Sutherland, the “father of computer graphics”, uttered these words 50 years ago when he pioneered an invention that would create lifelong contributions to graphics and education. An electrical engineer, computer scientist, and winner of multiple coveted computer science awards, including the Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology, Sutherland created Sketchpad. It was the first interactive program that allowed users to draw shapes directly on the screen with a light pen. In other words, he discovered a way to communicate with his computer.

Fast forward 50 years, and we’re still interacting with computers, only in more diverse ways: 3-D modeling, visual simulation, computer aided design (CAD) and virtual reality. The simple idea of a human connecting with a computer was groundbreaking, and a major breakthrough that fostered today’s complex technology.

In fact, Sketchpad was one of the most influential computer programs ever written at the time, and never really went away. It just improved. Today’s Geometer’s Sketchpad, honors Ivan Sutherland’s 1963 Sketchpad program, and is the world’s leading computer graphic software for teaching math. Transforming the paper-and-pencil geometry class into an interactive learning environment, Sketchpad is one of the most widely-used educational technologies for school mathematics in the world.

Most importantly, the simple idea Sutherland fostered 50 years ago turned our 21st century classroom into a student-centered, rather than teacher-driven, environment.

Here are some interactive ways students of all ages can learn with The Geometer’s Sketchpad:

  • Explore — Discover geometric patterns, learn shapes, and search number lines.
  • Create — Construct geometric circles, triangles, squares, polygons, and experiment with angles, segments, Base 10, and other operations. Students can manipulate fractions, measure, and calculate geometric principals, strengthening their understanding of geometry.
  • Design — Create optical illusions and two-dimensional shapes and figures.
  • Prepare — Study ratio, proportion, and functional relationships with graphs and charts.
  • Reinforce — Plot algebraic functions, create slopes, lines, tangents and graphs.
  • Experiment — Test your Algebra, Geometry, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus knowledge.
  • Interact — Make math more interesting using The Geometer’s Sketchpad on your Smart Board.
  • Talk — Discuss The Geometer’s Sketchpad with other teachers on Sketch Exchange, a free online community for math educators to share ideas and connect with peers.

More projects can be found in the 101 Project Ideas for The Geometer’s Sketchpad.

Remember, the next time you’re using a mouse, 3-D printer, video game, or even the internet, consider its foundation and how a major breakthrough in computer graphics developed from a single vision. One that paved the way for human-computer interaction, transformed the learning environment, and made math more meaningful to students.

Are you nurturing the simple ideas of your students? Your students are the innovators of the future, and you may just have the next Sutherland sitting in your classroom.