In grade 12 I achieved the top marks for Mathematics HG. This was the culmination of two years of preparation, and mostly completing old exam papers from the previous three years. Even though there were computers available to me in 1992, I still had a steep learning curve to using computers before I could benefit from educational tools. Pioneers like Sugata Mitra and Salman Khan have shows how the Internet as a medium allows children to do group learning.
After seeing this TED Talk by Conrad Wolfram posted on the Facebook page of Claire Marketos, I suggested she contact Roger Layton. He told me a few days ago he submitted his Ph.D. thesis on a similar. You may read his reply below after the video…
Roger Layton: I do not actually agree with what Conrad has to say in this video. He is (not so subtly) punting his Mathematica products and others such as Wolfram Alpha. However, it is difficult to criticise him and Wolfram Research in general since they are A-list in the mathematics world – but that does not make them correct. My kids learned LOGO at school and that did not make them better mathematicians. The usage of the calculator has definitely reduced learners ability to perform mental calculations, and with calculators doing more and more this is becoming worse over time. He has a point that technology allows us to doing things better, but human understanding is compromised if we use technology too much.
My own research explored the question of what computers should be used for in the mathematics classroom and my focus is on diagnostic assessment – discovering of conceptual barriers to understanding rather than as a tool to aid conceptual development. This is different from Conrad Wolfram‘s perspective here and his talk is not aligned with modern thinking of what mathematics is and what mathematical proficiency is, and this is multi-dimensional and not limited to calculations alone. I think he is out of touch.
Claire Marketos: I like Conrad”s idea of using computers to spend more time problem solving. For bright maths students the primary years are tedious as they are expected to do basic computing over and over again. For them being able to use computers to solve problems would be more satisfying. What is your hands on experience with learners Roger?