‘MTSU On the Record’ guest chooses ‘function’ over...

‘MTSU On the Record’ guest chooses ‘function’ over form in mathematics research

The use of a vending machine motif to teach teachers how to teach math was the subject of a recent “MTSU On the Record” radio program. 

Dr. Jennifer Lovett, assistant professor, mathematical sciences

Dr. Jennifer Lovett

Host Gina Logue’s interview with Dr. Jennifer Lovett, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, first aired Oct. 13 on WMOT-FM Roots Radio 89.5 and

You can listen to their conversation via the Soundcloud link above.

Lovett is co-author of a study on the use of an applet, or short computer application, in the form of a soft drink vending machine to teach students the concept of “function,” the relationship between an input and an output, outside an algebraic context.

The vending machine applet has buttons for the fictional brands of Red Cola, Diet Blue, Silver Mist and Green Dew. Lovett and her co-authors created different versions of the software for preservice teachers and for middle school students.

Lovett said the preservice teachers participating in the study experienced some of the same frustrations in trying to manipulate the “machines” that students face when they try to work algebraic equations.

However, she said, even those frustrations produced teachable moments.WMOT Roots Radio 89.5 FM logo

“There’s one machine that does not produce a can,” Lovett said. “When you press the Silver Mist button, no can appears.

“They get really mad because they think the software’s broken …. Eventually, they realize there’s no output for that input. That relates to functions that aren’t continuous.”

The study, “Designing to Provoke Disorienting Dilemmas: Transforming Preservice Teachers’ Understanding of Function Using a Vending Machine Applet,” was published in the academic journal Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education in 2019. You can read it here.

To hear previous “MTSU On the Record” programs, visit the searchable “Audio Clips” archives at

For more information about the radio program, contact Logue at 615-898-5081 or WMOT-FM at 615-898-2800.