The First Computer-Based Math Education Summit
November 29, 2011 — Jackie Tran, Courseware Author
Having worked on content development for computer-based math over the past few months, I am excited to share a quick report on our lively summit at The Royal Institution. The purpose was to address the question “In an era of ubiquitous computing, how should we rebuild math education from the ground up, to keep pace with and drive progress in the real world?”
Attendees included people from government, education, assessment, industry, technology, STEM, and publishing, which I believe proved to make a very interesting crowd. The talks from speakers were insightful as anticipated and, at times, amusing; however, what I enjoyed most were the natural discussions and debates that happened after these talks and throughout the summit.
After Conrad Wolfram’s opening address, the day kicked off with “Society’s Changing Needs for Math”, which consisted of Marcus du Sautoy (well known for his BBC documentaries) on making maths relevant to the public; Paul Wilmott, who talked about his experience of getting his professionals to solve problems in the quantitative finance field; Charles Fadel on the global needs of people in technical fields; and Tim Oates (head of the expert panel on curriculum reforms for England) on students gaining deeper understanding in what they are taught.
The session I most looked forward to was the last of the day, which was “Working through the Objections to Computer-Based Math”. Conrad Wolfram and Jon McLoone (active Wolfram blogger) were in the spotlight to argue through a list of objections, ready to respond to any questions from the audience.
A few comments which struck me from a sample of sessions came from the audience:
- It is how, not what, to teach that is important. Students worry too much about what is on the math curriculum—would students complain about learning Macbeth instead of Hamlet in English?
- Allow children to publish papers and read proofs to people. Empower them as students.
- It is our approach to things, the way we behave and think rather than the knowledge we have, that makes us mathematicians.
- We must inject skepticism in students and encourage students to explore and interpret their own understanding of mathematics.
- Teachers need to have the confidence to teach and guide students with open-ended questions.
Other sessions over the two days included discussions on applying computers; modes of learning; state-of-the-art technology; engaging the disenfranchised; hand computation versus computing; implementing changes; and needs for industry, assessment, government, and culture.
The interactive whiteboard allowed our attendees to explore the topics list and run through the example seed module. This gave us useful feedback, as it is the first time we’ve showcased material, and is a great starting point in getting our community to participate in content development.
I feel that the summit has been worthwhile and pulled our community closer. I hope that the momentum in each of our hearts will continue to resonate and call on actions that will make computer-based math transpire.
In Conrad’s closing talk, he argued that actions that the group should take are to: focus on agreements and go on building answers on disagreements, be multipliers, build on this community and the computer-based math content community, get our terminology straight, and be active in topic and module development.
We must sharpen the concept and activate and direct the community with a road map to delivery.
If you’re as excited as we are about this and are keen to find out more, go to computerbasedmath.org and sign up for our mailing list. Also keep an eye out for the videos of our summit, which will be uploaded shortly!