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Tigard company offers solution to pesky math problems

Saltire Softwares new application creates ideal teachers aid

For more than 20 years, Saltire Software on Southwest Hall Boulevard has been plugging away, making math more accessible for everyone.

The company has written programs for high-end advanced calculators and worked with mechanical engineers to translate complex geometrical objects into simple mathematical formulas. It designed a program to help homeowners determine how much carpet they’ll need to install in homes.

And now, it’s getting into education.

The company has released a series of free applications for the iPad and other platforms, designed to help math teachers teach difficult subjects to their students.

Known as Common Core Nuggets, the apps are designed to fit into new state standards, which are set to take effect next year.

Need help explaining to students about finding the area of a parallelogram, or how to graph a complex formula? The apps easily convert difficult mathematical ideas into simple interactive models that teachers and students can use in the classroom.

Students can move and change the dimensions of the objects, allowing them to see how the mathematical properties work.

“Students have a different expectation for how they learn. It’s not just on a blackboard anymore,” said Saltire President Phillip Todd. “Students expect things to be a little more interactive. Why use a static image when you can use something that people can interact with.

The apps allow teachers to work through trouble spots that students might find challenging and are tailored to fit individual Common Core curriculum in middle schools and high schools.

If teachers find a subject their students are struggling with, they can even create their own Nuggets to help students, Todd said.

Showcasing technology

Larry Ottman, a mathematics teacher at Haddon Heights High School in New Jersey, helped design the program.

“These apps are designed to have students easily, and interactively, get to the essential understandings of specifically targeted standards,” Ottman said. “Students can explore them on their own, and teachers can use them in classroom demonstrations to help develop and focus student understanding on these important concepts.”

More and more, Todd said, learning will take place using technology such as tablet computers in the classroom. He sees book publishers adopting the technology to get more interesting material into virtual textbooks.

“Instead of a physical textbook, you can have a virtual textbook with pictures and movies and something that in a mathematical sense you can interact with,” Todd said. “You want something that allows you to interact with the live mathematics of a scene.”

The apps are the product of the company’s innovative Geometry Expressions program, Todd said, which takes geometrical shapes and converts them into algebraic equations.

That program has allowed the company to create several real-world applications while working with mechanical engineers in designing products.

“Our goal was to showcase what can be done with our technology,” Todd said. “I’m interested in algebra and geometry working together. “We built the first prototype back in 1987, and ever since, we keep coming back to this idea.”

Being able to transform geometry into algebra is important, Todd said.

“If you have a model where you want to understand how the design changes but you don’t know how long (the sides) will be, then having it as an equation gives you the capability of understanding not just one design but a whole range of possible designs.”

The company first used the technology in math classes a few years ago, when it worked with students at Portland Saturday Academy to design a virtual math book using Euclid’s Elements, a math textbook written in 300 B.C.

The mathematical properties are just as true today as they were then, Todd said. The company’s technology helps to illustrate the ideas in a way that allows students to play with the material and understand it better.

“Students can really get into exploring mathematics in a different way than they can in a textbook,” said Audry Knippert, the company’s marketing director. “Students can literally pick this up and drag things around and see what kind of changes are happening. They can look at the math behind it and see what is making it do that. The hope is to get students inspired about math and get more in depth than they might be getting right now.”

Todd said there are few companies working on this kind of technology.

“We are so far out beyond the forefront, and so small a company, that we don’t impact anybody else. We’re like a little island of technology way beyond the bleeding edge.”

For more information about Saltire and the Common Core Nuggets, visit saltire.com/apps/common-core-nuggets.

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