Stop pretending computers don’t exist

conradwolfram

Conrad Wolfram, Founder of Computer-Based Maths

During our extensive 13-year course, you will be provided access to basic music theory and to some music videos and CDs. You will read about the benefits of playing a piano. You will mentally memorise scales and arpeggios.

Just one caveat – there’s no piano.

Would you send your child on this course? Can you become a competent pianist without ever laying a finger on a piano? Most would argue no – that in order to master a skill, you have to gain experience in using, honing and perfecting it.

Maths underpins every area of science, engineering and technology. So what are we doing with today’s maths education?

Today’s maths education spends 80% of the curriculum time gaining expertise in hand–calculation methods and algebraic manipulation, despite the advent of the modern computer which mechanised computation beyond previous imagination. The curriculum is ordered by the difficulty of the skills necessary to complete the calculation, rather than the difficulty of understanding the topic.

But that’s ok, right? Because I’m not going to be a mathematician.

Well, there are three main reasons why people need to learn maths:

First, there are technical jobs – from marine biologists modelling oceanic migration, to engineers developing reusable space rockets or social scientists predicting next year’s trends.

Second, there’s everyday living, particularly with the rise in the abundance and use of data – a whole generation of people who will contribute to and benefit from the computational knowledge economy.

Third, what one might call logical mind training—being able to reason, whether with maths itself or with other things.

In practice, these are neither reflected by the current curriculum nor tethered to today’s prescribed outcomes effectively.

But I don’t want to be a pianist or a scientist – why should I care?

Because real-world maths is more crucial than ever to our everyday lives. But it needs to be the ‘right’ maths – one that’s tethered to real-world outcomes. It’s imperative to encourage a problem-centric approach – to be able to apply mathematics to questions like:

How much will my money be worth in ten years’ time?

Can my Facebook connections predict whether I get sick?

How could I make an unbreakable password?

Surely that beats long division?

So how do we teach STEM assuming computers?

Computer-Based Math (CBM) was founded to push the reset button on the school subject of maths so it truly reflects today’s real-world subject of maths, including the four-step problem-solving process it entails. CBM is delivering a supportive learning environment including interactive materials, based on mapping out curricula and assessments, all tethered to outcomes we believe it’s important to achieve. The CBM curriculum is unique in assuming computers by default, avoiding the need to learn most hand–calculating.

Computers liberated real-world maths from hand-calculating to go far further and faster than anyone could have imagined. Now it’s vital that STEM education stands on this automation too.

Co-authored by Conrad Wolfram (Founder of Computer-Based Maths) and Joanna Perkins. Find out more: www.computerbasedmath.org

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