Wolfram Computation Meets Knowledge

The First Computer-Based Math Education Summit

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?”

The Computer-Based Math Education Summit

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.

The Computer-Based Math Education SummitThe Computer-Based Math Education SummitThe Computer-Based Math Education Summit

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.

Conrad Wolfram speaking at the CBM Education SummitA panel discussion at the CBM Education Summit

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.

The Computer-Based Math Education Summit

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.

The Computer-Based Math Education Summit

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!


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  1. Can’t wait until the videos comes out!

  2. Thanks, we will let you all know when the first video is up!

  3. Hi Jackie,

    Great article, sounds like your conference went well. In response to your question about Shakespeare: there is reason to complain. I might actually be more interested in attending a third play also written by Shakespeare, or perhaps attending an opera written by Stravinsky. Same complaint with math: symbol computations are different than numeric computations. The computations of Archimedes or other computations with rich historical context are different from optimizations of assembly lines. But you are so right that “how” is important too, just think about trigonometry!

    Thanks for sharing,


  4. Nice, I hope the forum will be finished soon so the community may grow.

  5. thanks a lot for sharing the latest info. As a Lecturer, I feel ‘ really useful’ and learners benefit a lot from this.

  6. I was not able to attend the conference due to financial shortage . you have summarized the conference well. I can’t to see the videos from the summit