Wednesday, November 17, 2010

One Idea of How to Teach Math in the Modern Classroom - On Computers

Conrad Wolfram has a presentation about what he feels is a weak, antiquated way of teaching math in school. Instead of all hand-written work on paper, use computers to get students thinking about everyday problems. He argues that problems are dumbed-down in school, and that real-world calculations are not done that would better engage students, as well as lead to better math skills that are necessary in today's world. Because math is done on computers in research and the workplace, this would allow students to build the knowledge, tools and skills that are relevant in today's world, rather than the knowledge, tools and skills that were necessary 50 years ago in an age of agricultural and manufacturing jobs.

Personally I think he has a good point. However, I am convinced that doing just about anything one-way is not a good idea. Variety is necessary. There is something to be said for doing things by hand to learn process and the nuts and bolts of a computation. But I do think technology can be and should be used more frequently than is presently done, as this is a student's future. Also, not everyone will likely learn more if done on a computer. Some students do in fact enjoy pencil and paper problems, and can learn a great deal with this technique. I also think that many learn, or at least gain greater insights, interest and relevance of math through applications in something like physics. I know I finally got a grip on what calculus was all about after using it in physics, and many students have told me the same thing.

I am interested in your take on this as students...what do you think?

Good Advice to Look for Simplicity in Complex Problems

Scientist Eric Berlow gives some good advice on how to approach complexity and complex problems. With complex systems and networks, there can be a good deal of secondary and tertiary connections that might be considered 'noise' in the system, and rather than focus on a terribly complicated network map, he checks out the key components first, such as hubs in the network or looking for the first few degrees of connectivity of key components, to simplify the map. It is a short segment of a TED talk, but I found it as something that some of my students might relate to as they get into more complex problem solving; basically making things manageable. Check it out.