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Bradley Hilltopics

Spring 2010 • Volume 16, Issue 2  

Alumni Profiles

MICHAEL HANSEN ’83: Trigonometry? There’s an app for that! | NATALIE BARTUSEK BONETTI ’94: Bronze Star for Major Bonetti | DEAN BATOGOWSKI ’97: Recipe for success | After Hours barbershop quartet | JIM KELCH ’80: On air in Cincinnati | SUSAN FINN CARTER ’95: Top teacher | ANDREW NELCH ’05: Green engineer


Trigonometry? There’s an app for that!

By Nancy Ridgeway

When MICHAEL HANSEN ’83 looks at the future of education, he sees a classroom where students pull out their cell phones — not to text or talk, but to learn. “Cell phones today are computers. Many are more powerful than desktop computers of just a few years ago,” says Mike, a high school math teacher at Saint Albans School for Boys in Washington, D.C. Mike and one of his students have developed a trigonometry application (app) for the iPhone and iPod Touch.


Visit for a direct link to the app.

BallparkIt™ is an educational game with a calculator that teaches trigonometry in a multiple-choice, quiz-game format. The game encourages players to use their intuition, or “ballpark it,” before they calculate the right answer. The app can be downloaded from the online iPhone App Store for $1.99.

“I’m not doing it to get rich,” Mike says. “I’m doing it for the experience and to advance the whole notion of educational games. The App Store has 1.5 billion downloads, and a lot of them are educational. This is the only calculator trigonometry game I know of, but there are all sorts of math games there.”

The idea for the app grew out of the annual Big Trig competition Mike started at Saint Albans in 2002. Using obsolete laptops with software Mike has written, students apply their trigonometry skills to compute missing sides or angles at the competition. Nicholas Ink, a 2009 Saint Albans graduate, suggested developing an app so students could use today’s technology rather than computers from the 1980s. Ink ported the Big Trig software to the iPhone App Store and added updated graphics and a touch-screen interface for the calculator.

“If you watch kids playing their video games, you see they are totally absorbed. If they’re going to play games anyway, why shouldn’t they learn something?” Mike says, adding that educational games have two distinct advantages. Games allow players to advance at their own pace. And, if students become emotionally interested in something like a game, they are motivated to learn it.

Mike holds a master’s degree in applied mathematics from the University of Illinois. He and his wife Elizabeth live in Alexandria, Va. His mother Eleonore Hansen was a librarian at Bradley for many years.