What If Teachers Took Computation Out of Math Class?

 (TED/Conrad Wolfram)

Math proficiency is a subject of a lot of anxiety for school leaders, parents and even national leaders. Employers and educators alike know that math skills are crucial to many of the science, technology and engineering jobs expected to be ever more important in the future, but students' math comprehension continues to stagnate.

In his TED Talk, mathematician Conrad Wolfram argues much of this angst is about how well students can compute by hand, not how well they understand math. He breaks math down into four steps:

1. Pose the right question about an issue
2. Change that real world scenario into a math formulation
3. Compute
4. Take the math formulation and turn it back into a real world scenario to verify it

Math as we teach it now, he argues, is mostly about step 3 - computation, the one part of the whole process that can be automated. However, Wolfram would like to see more attention paid to the other three crucial steps, which he says play a much larger role in enhancing both practical and conceptual understandings of math. He'd like to see students demonstrate understanding of the process and procedures of math through computer coding instead of computation. In this talk, he takes on some of the most common arguments for the current way of teaching math, including the fear that computers will "dumb down" students' understanding of mathematics.