TED Conversations

Conrad Wolfram


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Who could best contribute to the ideas of computer-based math education?

Based on the vision I set forth in my TED talk, we're hosting a key summit in London this November to drive a worldwide change to computer-based math education (http://www.computerbasedmath.org/events/londonsummit2011/index.html). Very interested in ideas of who could best contribute? And I'm not just talking educators but leaders who want radical change and have a stake in the future of STEM education. We've already got many countries, governments and quite a few fields represented but really want to make sure we don't miss key people out.


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    Sep 17 2011: To me it's not teaching maths at all. Maths is part of a toolkit for innovation and learning. It's very important but so are many other tools.

    I know many mathematicians and physicists, computer scientists who would struggle to change a car tyre or work out how to mend a broken pipe. The Engineering capability is lost when we dive straight in. Given this ability and then the extremely powerful tool that is computers we can make enormous differences. I believe it's before children can use computers, even before reading a writing the creative capability of using stuff around them as tools to get other stuff working is paramount, missing out this part is like putting a child in a fast car, they may get somewhere fast and not necessarily know how they did, i.e. they will struggle to make better cars or transport.

    So my opinion is teach problem solving pre-computer and with computers eventually (with reading and writing). This way people will understand at the deepest level.

    You can drive without really knowing how a clutch works or how to get around a faulty handbrake etc., you will just drive better when you do.
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      Sep 21 2011: I'd like to see schools use Chess as an alternative to mathematics.
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        Sep 25 2011: Chess as an alternative to Math? Or to teach math?

        I had a teacher use poker to teach statistics. It was the first time all term the light bulb went on for many of the students. The thought of using Chess would bring in logic and planninig. I like that.
    • Sep 29 2011: I'm not convinced that it's important enough to know how a clutch works to teach that to students who are learning to drive. Yes, you can argue that students would drive better if they understood the inner workings of a clutch but, how much better would students be and for how much effort? And, what would you replace in the curriculum to spend time on that skill?
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        Sep 29 2011: I agree to an extent but also think it's a failure to not teach to this level. Take for instance all the people taught about aerodynamics and lift and now we realise that was flawed, or perhaps if it transpires some particles break light speed. (we lost 600 years of maths from not believing in zero, were we right to do that or even to take on zero as existing at all ? we still cannot really answer this and yet rarely teach children about the serious issues of zero or infinity etc.)

        If these people were never taught first principles (or how a clutch works) then all their knowledge on these subjects is very much limited and taking on new ideas will be so much more difficult.

        It's a problem of progress, we leave behind many things (like ability to light fires or prepare and cook food in the wild etc.). When we expand these issues we leave behind to scientific and Engineering type subjects in particular then I believe there could be bad consequences.

        It's a balance to get right and no real right or wrong, just a balance and first we need to recodnise it.

        I take your point, perhaps everyone does not need to know everything, but it sure helps to know more that we sometimes do.

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