AppInventor as a tool for applied Mathematics: GPS and coordinate transformations

Mobile devices offer a magnificent set of capabilities to use with studying physics — and this can be done with freely available software tools. Since five years I am using MIT AppInventor teaching programming courses for beginners and using it for advanced problems even at the final exams. It’s a pity but this is only available for Android until now (which is no problem as iOS devices are very rare in classrooms).

Now I tried to use this for a more advanced task: calculations with spherical coordinates with live (=GPS) coordinates collected from the mobile device. This sure would be nice to do in Geogebra — see below.

A first step  is just to get the data and display it. Very easy to do for a 17 year old student – this could be done in about 2 lessons – see here(available in German only). The results doing this in classroom are very promising: this is understood easily, done in a very short time and many ideas have been implemented in small projects: a simple app just displaying the location and the address of the user; a more advanced app displaying the actual distance to a selected location (“E.T. phoning home”).

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What is really awful doing this? Firstly the ease at which this can be done. No programming experience was required, the students get the idea instantly and go on to realise their ideas. Secondly, the projects can be built into .apk files, which can be run by just any Android device out there, all the fellow students can load the resulting app. Are there downsides? Yes, one (besides iOS users being left out): math is done really, really, cumbersome.

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Sure it has its own logic building mathematical expressions hirarchically from ground up but this just isn’t the way anyone (besides a teacher) is thinking. There should be some way to input expressions in mathematical notation.

What about Geogebra? There is an app called “Sensors” which allows collecting Sensor data from Android Mobile Phones — this is to be investigated and will be reported. Formulas should be no problem then.

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