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Math IS NOT just Calculating

“Computers have the power to liberate math from calculating, raising its use to new levels—exactly what’s happened outside education,” said Conrad Wolfram. “Mimic this real-world of math, and your education will become more conceptual, more practical, and more motivational.”

Mathematical problem solving is

1.Posing the right question
2.Translating a real-world problem into math
4.Translating math back into the real world

The typical math classroom spends 80% of its time teaching calculation, the computational aspect of mathematical problem solving that, in the real world outside of our classroom, is being done by computers.

No-one in real life does these hand analyses or works with only 5 data points, so why do we make our students? It is possible to introduce students, even in elementary school, to relevant and conceptually interesting applications of maths. For the next decade or two, that needs to be done alongside the reality of having to prepare students for standardized tests that still only allow handheld calculators (if that). It can be done with the challenge Conrad Wolfram proposes, that we take each piece of content and ask afresh, “what purpose does it serve to teach this now that we have computers?” “How can we make this more life-like, more real, if computers do the calculating?”.

Teachers can start now exploring the possibilities.  I was thrilled when Andy Dorsett from Wolfram Research visited the campus of Penn State Beaver and addressed a crowd of professors, students and elementary, middle and high school teachers. His presentation can be downloaded here. You will need to download the free viewer, as it was created in Mathematica (the software includes an incredible presentation creation component). Once you download this, make sure to right-click on the folder and “extract all” to release the folders.

If you would like to try out Mathematica for free for 30 days, please visit this link:  Once you have Mathematica installed, visit their Learning Center to find just the right resources.

Or, if you are ready to purchase a license Mathematica, you can look at your options here:

Contact Andy (800.965.3726 ext 5592 [email protected]) if you are interested in school-wide options for Mathematica.

Spend time playing with Mathematica and demonstrate your finds to your students. Join the movement of teachers transforming mathematics to be problem centered, not computation centered. I will add the caveat from  Ben Blum-Smith, three years ago on this blog, offering a balance to over-emphasizing “relevance”:

The real test of whether a math problem is “relevant” is not “do you use this in ‘real life’,” whatever that means, but “do you want to solve it?” It’s not that you want to solve it because it’s relevant; wanting to solve it is what it means to be relevant.

Estonia is the first country to embrace computer based math. The videos below highlight the conversations happening around the globe about the transformations happening in mathematics education.




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  1. […] of mathematics, but it does rearrange how we teach math, placing less emphasis on computation (which is only a small part of math). Exciting advances in computer education have made it possible for preschool and elementary […]

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