What is SMAC?


08/01/2009 by Sylvain Hallé

Sciences and Mathematics in Action (SMAC) is a project I was involved in from its foundation in 2005 until 2007 (while working in parallel on my Ph.D. at a different university in a different town). It was initiated by Université Laval's professor Jean-Marie De Koninck with the goal of promoting mathematics and sciences for the general public, and high school students in particular. SMAC still runs to this day and has its own website.

You might also want to look at a slightly sentimental account of my stint at SMAC.

SMAC logo

The SMAC logo, which I designed in 2005 and is still being used

I was contacted in early 2005 by Pr. De Koninck to start SMAC and lay the groundwork for its two flagship projects:

SMAC 2005 group photo

The SMAC team at its beginning, Summer 2005

Genesis: a first conference

At the time, I had already collaborated with Pr. De Koninck in 2002 on the preparation of a one-shot conference on mathematics, targeted as the public opening event of the Canadian Mathematical Society's Summer meeting that was held at Université Laval that year. I had a track record of creating skits and playing onstage with my parallel work in Le Duo Tang with my friend Sébastien Roy, which had drawn the attention of some professors and fellow students in the Department.

For the CMS conference, I created a string of multimedia animations and video clips to illustrate the conference's contents in an original and "crowd pleasing" way --a kind of "PowerPoint on steroids". The conference opened by a humorous short film much in the manner of a TV program, complete with opening credits and a laugh track:

(I play the guy in the white shirt with a tie, and Sébastien has the green shirt. The waiter is Pr. De Koninck. date: June 2002)

The original treatment of the subject was very well received and ultimately led it to become a prototype for Show Math three years later.

Show Math

My responsibilities for Show Math were numerous. Starting in March of 2005, I had to choose the mathematical subjects to be covered by the conference, develop the narrative to explain each of them, and design the animated shorts, skits and multimedia elements to be used. The first representation of Show Math was already booked for September 15th; all in all, we created a 75-minute show from scratch in just short of six months. I was part of the conference staff that toured Quebec and the rest of Canada (50 schools and special events) and had a part on stage as well. The conference achieves the feat of talking for an hour and a half about Fourier transforms, probabilities and the decimals of pi to auditoriums full of High School students and keeping their attention (and entertaining them) until the end. Numerous representations of the show finish with standing ovations from the students.

This is the original TV ad Sébastien and I produced for the show:

(I play the fake Japanese farmer at the left of the screen. date: July 2005)

Continuing with the 2002 conference's leitmotiv, we produced a funny opening video for Show Math:

(This is the 2007 version of the clip. Most of it was filmed in 2005, with the exception of the soccer scenes.)

The following clip show Sébastien and I in the very first performance of a staple of Show Math: the animated skit "La porte les mouches", which is a pedagogical explanation of the Monty Hall problem:

date: Sept. 15th, 2005. ("La porte les mouches" literally translates as "The door, the flies"; in Québec, it corresponds to a very common phrase during Summer time when one is reminded to close a door hastily before flies manage to sneak inside the house. In the present context, opening one of the show's doors reveals a prize, while the remaining two reveal... flies, instead of the original donkey in Monty Hall's TV program.)

A version of that skit was aired on national radio when Pr. De Koninck was named Scientist of the year 2005:

Math en jeu

I was also responsible for the development of a free online multimedia math game for High School students, called Math Amaze. I supervised a team of graphic designers, Computer Science and Science Education students (20 people in total) counting among them three undergraduate NSERC scholarship holders. Math Amaze has been designed from the start with the goal of creating a web-based learning environment to complement the notions covered in class by a teacher.

Besides taking part in the actual programming of parts of the game, I was also responsible for the technical choices that oriented the architecture and the development: choice of programming languages to be used, development licenses to buy, client-server messaging architecture and protocols, database structure, setup of a CVS server (on SourceForge) for collaborative work. I developed the first prototype of the game and was responsible for presenting it to focus groups of High School students.

Here is a demo of Math en jeu I prepared in 2007:

After 18 months of development, the first version of the game was officially launched online in February 2007.

Math en jeu was nominated as Finalist for the 2007 OCTAS prizes awarded by the Fédération informatique du Québec in two categories: "Best educational product" and "Best student project". (As a side note, the projects that won in those two categories are extinct as of 2016, while MathAmaze is online and still being used...)

OCTAS 2007 finalists photo

Official photo from the OCTAS ceremony, April 2007. Representing SMAC, I am second from the right.

This is a 2007 joint TV interview with Jean-Marie De Koninck and me explaining SMAC's activities, including an early demo of Math Amaze:

(Air date: February 28th, 2007)

comments powered by Disqus