Computers Vs Pen & Paper

Posted by Rhys on Jan 4, 2016

Having watched the TED talk on how computers should be used in mathematics by Conrad Wolfram and read the article by Willingham. I have mixed opinions on how computers could aid or handicap the learning of mathematics in schools.

Firstly Wolfram discussed how using maths in the real world is very popular in modern society. But the public may not realise that they are using mathematics. For example in geology, engineers, biologists. And these are all areas that the public can relate to which allows them to be doing maths without realising it. Whereas, in the classroom students are being faced with a dull textbook and are having to do their calculations by hand. I feel that this is true because a reason why a lot of students don’t connect with maths in school is because it is perceived as sitting at a desk writing really long calculations that take up a whole page just to get an answer that could have been achieved in 20 seconds using a computer to do the calculations. Wolfram agrees with me because he says that we should stop spending the majority of lesson time teaching students how to do all the calculations when a computer can do all that hard work for us. Instead the time would be better used teaching students all the real life applications of maths and how the maths they are being taught can be used in the real world. This will therefore help them in their adult life when they are having to deal with problems such as mortgages and saving accounts.

The article on the other hand is still divided by whether computers should be used in the classroom or not. This is because Willingham feels that for technology to help aid with learning it must have a practical format that students can follow easily and that will challenge their understanding of the topic. This is in direct comparison to Wolfram as the article is not saying the computers should not be used to do all the calculations, but rather aid the students on their way to achieving the answer.

In my opinion I feel that computers should not just be blindly used to achieve answers. This is because the students will not understand how they got the answer that they did. Which means they are not learning anything at all merely copying a result a computer gave. I’m more on the side of computers being used as a tool alongside hand calculations rather than a replacement. This is what I feel the article is trying to encourage. It reminds of the format of the khan academy, it’s not a replacement for hand calculations, but more of a helpful tool for students to use help them achieve the answer to the question they have been presented with.

However, I don’t totally disagree with Wolfram as I feel maths in the real world is not as straight forward as it is represented in textbooks at school. But I do feel the workings and methods of calculation is important knowledge for the students. But these methods could be taught alongside teaching the students how to use certain software that they may use in the real world to help with calculations. Overall I feel that computers have their place in the education system as and aid but not as a replacement.

1 Comment

  1. marcus
    10 January 2016

    I found this think-piece to be really interesting, Rhys. I completely agree that computers should be used as a tool alongside hand calculations. I think its important that students understand the maths involved in this step before using a computer.

    I think your last paragraph is intriguing… What do you think is the best way to approach this? Do you think that a separate lesson should be introduced? for example “Application of maths to the real world”?

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