Maths is not calculating- Conrad Wolfram

Conrad Wolfram, founder of the amazing Wolfram Alpha site discussed on Great Maths Teaching Ideas previously, spoke recently about his concerns about the way maths education is delivered right across the world. In an engaging and persuasive talk, Wolfram argues that there is more to maths than calculating, yet this is what we are teaching pupils to do by hand 90% of the time. He believes that computers should be used for calculating and the maths curriculum should embrace the other areas of maths that computers cannot yet do such as formulating a problem, deciding what information you need to know and how you are going to use it and then interpreting the results.

I’ll go on the record saying that I believe Wolfram is right here. The current approach of trying to make pupils ‘more functional’ in their maths is an add-on to the current curriculum. Wolfram’s vision is where the ‘functionality’ pupils need to develop is the curriculum and we let the computers handle the solving of the quadratic equation.

This year I discovered Wolfram Alpha and how it can solve just about any question on the maths syllabus I teach. It can complete the square, factorise, calculate the sum of interior angles in polygons and solve cubic equations (without trial and improvement!) and pretty much anything else you’ll ever need. I was so energised when I discovered it as I thought it was going to be a tool pupils could really use to help them with their learning. In reality I could never see a way to get pupils as excited about it as they all realised they are investing large amounts of time learning how to solve things by hand that a computer can do faster, for free and without making mistakes.

You’re right Conrad.

Learning Without Frontiers Talk by Conrad Wolfram

What do you think?

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