Australia & New Zealand

Conrad Wolfram

Conrad Wolfram

Continuing the EduTECH theme of challenging educational conventions, Conrad Wolfram of Wolfram Research took the stage to tell us that "Maths has a major problem. It's a real-world subject solving real-world problems, but maths education is a lot of hand calculating."

He sees four elements to maths:
1. Define questions
2. Translate the real world into mathematical terms
3. Compute the answers
4. Interpret the results (from maths back to the real world)

We spend 80% of student time on step 3, when we should be spending 80% on the other three elements.

He believes maths education should assume the use of computers to make this happen.

"The important thing is to know how to set up the equation. Not how to calculate the equation. Let a computer do it!" He gave us a demonstration of the practical value of this, solving a complex cubic equation on his phone. "Something most university students couldn't do by hand."
He ran through some of the capabilities of the new Wolfram language, showing it producing visual examples of calculus and thermodynamics in action – "making these subjects suitable for primary school."

In response to critics who say you have to "get the basics first", he asks, "Do we need to build a car to drive it? Traditional maths teaching is mechanically focused, not problem focused. The mechanics of the moment is different from the essence of the subject."

Incidentally, it was great to see Conrad was using his Lenovo ThinkPad! He visited the Lenovo stand during the show to check out our latest models.

To find out more, check out Conrad's TED talk or visit computerbasedmath.org.

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