Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Teaching kids real math with computers | TED Talk

Conrad Wolfram discusses “Teaching kids real math with computers.”

In the video, Wolfram discusses the difference between school math and real-world math.  Here are some highlights:

Why Teach Math?

  • Technical Jobs
  • Everyday living
  • Logical Thinking

What is Math?

  1. Posing the right questions
  2. Real world –> math formulation
  3. Computation
  4. Math formulation –>Real world, verification

He claims that we spend most of our time in schools teaching Step 3: Computation.  He wonders “Why?”  Computers, he says, are designed to do this for us.  (“Computers” = “Computation”)  Students’ time studying math, he says, should be liberated from calculation, which is the “machinery of math.”

He suggests that teachers and students spend much more time on Steps 1, 2, & 4.  While there are instances where hand calculation is still important and practical (estimating & mental math, for example).  He compares the study of isolated mathematical calculations with the study of ancient Greek.  Important in its day, but its day has past.  In another comparison, he says that studying math is to studying calculation as learning to drive a car is to learning how engines and transmissions work.  Nice to know, not essential to know.

Using computers allows kids to move beyond the difficulties often experienced with calculations and “play” with math, experiment & explore more, ask the every-important “what if” questions and seek out their answers.  That, he says is the true reason we learn & study mathematics.  That is the essence of math.  And that will require an increasing use of computers in math classes throughout all grade levels. 

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

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