Saturday, November 20, 2010

Conrad Wolfram: Teaching kids real math with computers

Conrad Wolfram: Teaching kids real math with computers | Video on

I think I just found my new stealth campaign: I love Wolfram's suggestion to just sidestep the current curriculum - build a new subject - don't even call it mathematics. Sure would save the energy fighting people who insist on doing it the "Ancient Greek" way.

Highlights from Wolfram's presentation:
  • Stop teaching calculating - start teaching maths
  • Maths is actually very popular - but not in education
  • We're not teaching maths as it is really used or done in real life - even by mathematicians
  • What is maths:
    • Posing the right questions 
    • Real world -> math formulation
    • Computation
    • Translate back - validate
  • We spend way too much time on "computation" - when computer will do it better
  • Maths >> computing
  • Calculating is the machinery of maths - this liberation in mathematics hasn't made it into education
  • Only do hand calculating where it makes sense - mainly for estimating, and for some conceptual things
  • We make people learn mathematics - but should we be forcing them to learn Ancient Greek? Maths as we teach it now should be a specialist subject - not a forced one. 
  • "Ancient Greek": Would we teach people how cars work rather than teach them to drive? 
  • People confuse the order of the invention of the tools with the order of teaching
  • Objections:
    • "Computers dumb down maths" - turning into a multi-media show. Are students really thinking the way they do maths now? We actually dumb down the problems now
    • "Hand calculating procedures teach understanding" - do they? Understanding procedures and processes is important - how about using computer programming to check they really understand
  • Suggesting: unique opportunity to make maths more practical and more conceptual
  • We can now re-order the curriculum by "how order is it to understand the concepts". 
  • Road block to moving forward: exams.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! Sorry for the comment on a really old post, but I got to your blog from Axiom and started reading at the beginning :)

    I had mixed feelings about this video. But reading this after a classroom experience today made me think a bit differently. I posed the question "How long would it take to count to one billion?" to my year 7s and discussed various ways of estimating and timing bits and averaging and so on. One student came up with an idea based on how much longer each set of ten numbers took to say than the previous ten, creating an arithmetic series. At first I just said that the idea was good but the maths was too hard, then I thought that that doesn't mean we shouldn't use it. He might not be able to learn the formula or where it comes from, but he should be able to use it as a tool to test his idea. Maybe the same idea applies to using computers to do maths you can't do yet too?