Stop Calculating, Start Teaching Math

Although it’s almost two years old, I just ran across this talk from TED Global by Conrad Wolfram this weekend. In it he advocates for teaching kids real math, instead of just calculating, which he says makes up most of our current curriculum.

On the chance that you also have not discovered this presentation (and are interested in math education), here it is, plus a few of my thoughts of course.

According to Wolfram, in math education we’re spending about 80% of the time on what he calls step 3, calculating results by hand. Processes that are done faster and more efficiently using computers, a category that includes smartphones, tablets and those computing devices still called “calculators”.

Of all the subjects in K12, the math curriculum is probably more rooted in the pre-computer age than any other, taught in very much the same way as we did in the past century. And probably the one before that.

Certainly kids need to learn some basic facts and computational processes. But when was the last time you had to divide two fractions? Or did long division of a three digit number into a six digit number? And how did you handle that messy remainder?

I’m willing to bet that for all but the most simple problems, you turned to a computing device of some kind to assist with doing the mathematics.

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