Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Showdown: Geogebra vs. Sketchpad

Ihor & Scott debriefing
a session at NCTM 09
This is a comment I posted on the NCTM Conference Blog in response to a request that Scott Steketee from Key Curriculum posted there. It just cleared review and is now available. Here is an updated copy (without the typos) of what I wrote there:

Scott writes: "How can we best encourage reluctant teachers to use such tools and to use them most effectively in developing students’ reasoning and sense making? Any takers?"

I'll take a stab at it. Your question is is right on target. It's exactly the one that I have been thinking about during my many years of doing professional development with math teachers trying to help them use their technology in the best way they can to get after the vision you imply in your question. Sometimes the software tools the teachers are given and required to use are not always the ones I would recommend, but I do the best I can with them. Though at times it does feel like I’m trying to make lemonade out of lemons - which I’m not always successful at doing. Which brings me to Sketchpad vs. Geogebra.

Next month my wife and I are going on vacation to Italy. Our first stop is Venice where I’m looking forward to a delightful journey through the canals of Venice. The last time I enjoyed a canal boat ride was when I was in San Antonio, TX for a conference. How will the two experiences compare I wonder? It will be interesting to reflect on the differences and similarities. But would I give a talk titled: Canal Showdown: Venice vs. San Antonio? I think not. Both have their charms and I will remember the experiences I had there and what I learned. I think the same thing is true with Sketchpad and Geogebra. Both have their strengths and limitations. Is Sketchpad "better" than Geogebra? Is Venice “better” than St. Antonio? It really doesn’t matter. Either one can be used very effectively in achieving Scott's vision. It all depends on the context in which it is used. Personally, I love Sketchpad and always have. Do I have some problems with it? Of course. On the other hand, I know several math teachers who I respect who love Geogebra and use it effectively with their students. And I think that is great.

I was pleased with Jeffrey Hall's presentation (though I would have preferred a different title.) It was an honest attempt on his part to compare the ways the programs were similar & different and he did a good job. He was helped by Scott who was in the audience helping to give a fuller understanding of the various fine points in how Sketchpad worked. 

I admired this collaboration between Scott (and other members of the audience) and Jeffrey to help the attendees better understand the two programs so that they can make better informed decisions about which program to use in their schools so that their students get to experience the kind of mathematical thinking and exploration that dynamic geometric software makes possible.


  1. Hi Ihor,
    I'm working with a high school that has a site license for GSP 4 and just got sets of netbooks for most (not all) the math classrooms.

    I've been surprised by how well the teachers take to Geogebra. I was surprised because I have always felt the Sketchpad interface was so intuitive and felt very pure as a compass and straight-edge made dynamic.

    I think one reason teachers prefer Geogebra is the intense focus on algebra by the tests. Geometry, as construction and proof, is fading away into a kind of algebra on top of shapes, and then analytic geometry. That makes Geogebra the natural fit.

    George Reese
    at Illinois

  2. George: Are they using Geogebra despite the fact they have GSP? I assume the teachers had the option to use either program. Is that right?