26th of January, 2012 Bookmark and Share
The Learning Without Frontiers Conference in London today heard a passionate plea from leading Mathematician and Physicist, Conrad Wolfram, for urgent and wholesale reform of the way Maths is taught in UK schools.

Wolfram told the conference that the way Maths is taught is as a historical curiosity, with little connection to the way modern Maths is used in the real world.

“We need to stop teaching calculating, and start teaching Maths. Computers should be used to solve problems – pupils should be working out which problem to solve and why,” said Wolfram.

Wolfram’s central concern is that Maths education has failed to be based on modern technology. For hundreds of years maths was about manual calculating, but computers have fundamentally changed this because they can do the calculating much more effectively.

Wolfram said that the way Maths is taught today is akin to making photography students learn how to use chemicals or process film; or insisting design students use rulers and pencils without the assistance of Computer Aided Design.

Wolfram was critical of those equating ‘the basics’ with doing things by hand. He said that some critics don’t understand what ‘the basics’ truly are. He hit back at those who say the use of computers should dumb down maths. On the contrary, the lack of computers is dumbing down school maths to an alarming extent, by simplifying the problems they can study. Computers allow pupils to research much more advanced and complex equations and problems than anything that can be done manually. “I believe the financial crash was in part caused because people are not used to working out complex problems.”

With Maths a crucial part of modern life, Wolfram called for maths teaching to be based on problem solving. For example, designing a currency, studying code-breaking, exploring the mathematics of beauty or understanding how far a photo can be compressed – these are the sorts of problems that pupils should be studying in Maths lessons.
Wolfram also called for radical reform of Maths assessment. “It needs to involve computers and it needs to be open-ended,” he said. He finished with a plea that now is the time to grasp change – with the wide availability of computers, and fantastically creative and effective apps now ubiquitous, it has never been more important or indeed possible to reform Maths teaching and assessment.

For further information contact
Andrew McLachlan 07931.377162 andrew@mediazoo.tv
Sion Taylor 07768.372714 sion@mediazoo.tv
Katy Lithgow 07938.787011 katy@mediazoo.tv

Learning Without Frontiers 2012: 25 & 26 January 2012

Andrew McLachlan
Media Zoo is a media company based in Southwest London.