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Conrad Wolfram: Teaching Kids Real Math with Computers

In this video, Conrad Wolfram talks about education reform in mathematics. He believes that the way math is commonly taught in elementary and secondary school, focusing on calculation by hand, is obsolete and misguided. Advocating for a compete shift in curriculum and subject matter, Wolfram suggests that students are learning only a small part of what mathematics truly is--and that most of this work could be replaced by technology. My initial reaction, and the response I would expect from many upper-level math students, was skepticism. In my math education, teachers have always maintained that while technology can be an invaluable tool, relying on it detracts from a true understanding of mathematics. Despite my stubborness, however, I find Wolfram's point to be both intriguing and well-argued. He defends his proposal by methodically addressing each of the fallacies (in his opinion) used to justify the modern system, citing evidence from his own experiences and research in the world of business and technology. I am not sure whether I agree completely with his idea, but I found the talk extremely interesting and it offers a perspective on math education that seems to be very deliberately left out of the ETHS math curriculum.

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For the first eleven and a half minutes, the way he disparaged teaching kids basic arithmetic really bothered me. When he finally mentioned teaching programming, everything else made a lot more sense. I think replacing middle school math classes with programming classes would be effective at giving kids a good understanding of the foundations of math in the context of computers, and it would make computers even better tools for teaching higher math. Wolfram really didn't make a big enough deal out of that, being an absolutely critical part of his proposed math education system.

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