The Bullet and the Beast

Posted by Laura on Jan 10, 2016

In the TED talk by  Conrad Wolfram and the article by Daniel gillingham they both talk of tech as a silver bullet. Whilst Wolfram advocates the use of technology as the antidote to the virus plaguing our maths classrooms with irrelevance and boredom, Willingham begins by stating that technology, on its own, cannot be the cure we are looking for.

What both Willingham and Wolfram agrees on is that the mere presence of technology is not enough, it needs to be used effectively within the classroom toe engage students and enhance learning with opportunities that would not otherwise be available without the technology.

I have seen examples of technology being used ineffectively as Willingham describes, in my current school. Students are initially excited to use computers in their maths lessons but when the material presented on them is the same as they would experience in the classroom or very repetitive in style enthusiasm for ICT sessions rapidly wanes.

Wolfram presents an interesting idea that we shouldn’t be using computers as an alternative platform for the same “boring” mathematics we are currently teaching in the classroom, but to enable us to push our teaching of mathematics further to better represent the mathematics not only of the future, but of the present. One of the most common and frustrating questions to be asked in the classroom is “when will I ever use this” and I think that is an increasingly hard question to answer. With technology in the work place preforming so much of the mathematics that we teach in the classroom, should we be using the time in the classroom to teach students less of computational processes of the mathematics, but how to use these processes and what we can create from them?

Although I think this is a brilliant theory it would once again involve a complete turnover of not only the current curriculum, but also the methods of assessment we use. So many of the theories for regeneration in the mathematics classroom bring us back to the same points: the current syllabus is no longer interesting and relevant to many students and industries tat will be employing them in the near future.

I have always in the past been an advocate of mastery of the basics of mathematics, with the basics being the four operations etc, and that just because most people now carry around a calculator on their phone that doesn’t mean they should always use it however, I find the idea of using computers for the computational aspect of teaching very appealing. I believe this could enable students to spend more time developing the kind of analytical thinking to enable them to be taught in a far more relational style and develop better understanding of the processes behind the computation.

Having said this, I believe that the computation does still have some value and should not be entirely done by technology. A good balance of explanation and use of computing can open up a more interesting curriculum to students at a much younger age and mean that those leaving school have a much better and more useful understanding of mathematics for the future.


  1. Senay
    10 January 2016

    Laura, I think this is a very well written commentary and agree with your conclusions. How do you think what we have learnt about the Khan Academy fits into Wolfram’s idea?

  2. Stephen
    11 January 2016

    Lazza, I do strongly agree that overuse of a technology can become more tiresome than interesting. I agree correct usage is of the uptmost importance, do you think that all technology eventually become boring whether it is used correctly or not? If we consider the costs of remaining at the breaking edge of technology the budgets required will be insurmountable.

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