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A Report on Conrad Wolfram’s Conference: Teaching Kids Real Mathematics with Computers.
A Report on Conrad Wolfram’s Conference
Teaching Kids Real Mathematics with Computers

The conference held by Conrad Wolfram in July 2010 in Oxford, England, titled ‘Teaching kids real math with computers’ was quite an informative and interesting one. There he pointed out the change in the nature of mathematics over the past 30 years; a shift from adding machines to calculators to requisite refined math software, which allows more difficult computational accomplishment. The conference was a means of making us aware that persons are losing interest in Math Education while on the other hand the world is becoming more mathematical. Wolfram contends that children lose interest in math because of the way we teach calculation by hand which is not just boring, but is mostly irrelevant to real mathematics and the real world.

Wolfram makes a compelling and insightful argument for the place of computers in the sphere of the classroom, for the purposes of mathematical computation. He postulates that teaching students the process of manually solving equations is tedious and archaic, adding to growing apathy for math among students. Subsequently, his agenda is clear, to underscore the need for reform in mathematics education.
Wolfram posits that math can be broken down into four important steps: 1. Pose the right question 2. Take the real world situation and turn it into a math formula 3. Compute and 4. Take the mathematical answer and convert it back into a real world answer. Wolfram says that schools tend to focus on teaching step 3. As hours are spent teaching calculating by hand. In the real world, the important steps are 1, 2 and 4. Teaching steps 1, 2 and 4 focus the classroom on conceptual and practical things. He emphasizes that using computers allow students to spend less time calculating and more time engaging in logical thinking.

From the outset of the presentation, the basis for the inclusion of math in education was outlined without dissent. These being, to equip individuals with the necessary tools to pursue technical careers, challenging the mind to think critically, as well as its utility in everyday life. However he does question whether it ought to be a compulsory or voluntarily pursued.
At the central part of the presentation however was the intention to provoke thought to consider the integration of computers for the purposes of mathematical computation as the way forward, rather than the method of manual, step by step resolving of mathematical concepts on paper. While he does concede to some practical benefits of manual calculating, he holds that there are no colossal benefits. One may then infer that the benefits of hand calculations should be restricted to less complex math. Furthermore, it was asserted that computers would more be congruent to ameliorating student interaction and general perception. Thus the learning or application of math would be a far more enjoyable experience.
The seemingly dazzling benefits of his proposition is however not immune to scrutiny. Opposition essentially stems from generally agreed benefits of manual computation. Hence though, the more common are succinctly tackled. He purports such arguments to be untenable, starting with the view that introduction to basic math should precede computer integration. Further contending views posit that computers will dumb math down or ultimately lead to reduced critical thinking and reasoning skills. To this end he contends that the basis of what is to be achieved should not be differentiated from the machinery used. He goes further in its defence by suggesting that high school math is already “dumbed down” and incomparable to complex mathematical problems in real world environments and moreover that computers would provide orientation to more complex problems. As for the latter he advances the argument that programming would be just as effective in developing critical thinking skills. Interestingly however, he is opposed to incremental reformation.

Wolfram’s presentation seems to be predicated on the principles of the theory of constructivism. Jean Piaget, the main proponent of this theory advocates for interactive learning experiences. Piaget maintains that engaging students in problems or concepts, allows for a more meaningful experience. Consequently, students are able to construct knowledge based on their own experience. The theory of constructivism also suggests that problems should be posed in relation to real world situations rather than abstract and disconnected concepts. Computers have undoubtedly played a formidable role in revamping traditional approaches toward education, which has in turn allowed for quality education to be more accessible. Wolfram believes that computer integration will transform passive learners to more active, receptive participants which will inevitably improve overall achievement in math.

PLEASE WATCH THE VIDEO CLIP, in reference below.



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