Tinderbox: GCSE map


Eastgate Systems Tinderbox is a note taking application for Mac OS X (and soon, Windows). The application has just been upgraded to Version 3.5 with significant improvements in the user interface and and the addition of features of interest to bloggers. The application allows you to record ideas in small bits called notes and then re-arrange the bits as structures and relationships begin to emerge. In this sense the application is an ‘upside down outliner’. Each note can be opened in a word-processor like window that can accept bitmap graphics as well as styled text. Notes can be viewed in a variety of ways including Map View, a visual array of notes, and in Outline View, a more traditional list by title.

My hope and summer project is that by refactoring the Maths topics ruthlessly, I can get to a set of small hard nuggets of Maths (a sort of irreducible set of base vectors) that can be rearranged and strung together in different combinations to suit the learning styles of all the various students we see at College. To continue the analogy with Extreme Programming, I hope to associate a class time factor with each note so that you can ‘price’ a route through a topic quickly.

Some months ago I brainstormed topics in GCSE Intermediate Maths with students and a selection of textbooks. I am now beginning to group the grains together and establish links between the topics. So far we have a mind map for the Shape module with three different kinds of link:

  • A contains B (red)
  • A is related to B (blue)
  • A contrasts with B (snot green – the colors can be customised)
Soon I will be able to add a fourth kind of link – StudyNext – that will provide a thread through the material. Perhaps there will be a number of threads to suit different learning styles.

A major feature of Tinderbox is the provision of export templates – you can turn a web of notes into a set of interlinked Web pages by defining one or more templates. Notes have attributes – as many as you wish to define – and agents can collect sets of notes according to the values of attributes to index notes in many ways. At present links to the note/page and links from the note/page can be listed but it is not possible to export information about the type of link to the Web pages; I hope link types are added to the export tags in a future release.

My planned content added to each topic takes the form of Flash animations, links to PDF worksheets, and links to HotPotatoes multiple choice quizzes (Web pages with Javascript coding). Tinderbox used with note attributes, Web pages made from many notes, and a set of templates will handle all the link management of what will be a large site. Agents gathering collections of notes matching combinations of attributes can provide a range of indexing schemes.

Tinderbox version 3.5 offers an enhanced interface for notes – attributes can be changed from a side panel. Other enhancements include analysis of the words in the notes to produce ‘tag clouds’ and ‘similarity’ measures based on the text. In Maths we notoriously use the same words in many different contexts so this kind of vocabulary analysis may not be so useful, we shall see when I have some text in the notes.

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