Thursday, October 15, 2015

Taking the Calculating out of Maths

Five years ago Conrad Wolfram made a very compelling argument for taking the calculating out of math education in this TED talk. "Stop teaching calculating and start teaching math" is the slogan that was very attractive to those of us who thought that math was so much more than the drudgery of teaching the four operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. For several years I agreed with him that we really needed to throw out the arithmetic component of elementary school math and focus on problem solving and other more appealing aspects of math, I also realized that this was a radical idea that would probably never fly politically, socially or educationally.

What it did do, however, was to challenge us to think about why we teach these time consuming procedures when children could simply use calculators or computers to complete simple calculations.

I think the answer can be found in Bob Wrights work with the Math Recovery materials in which he advocates for  mathematization as a process for getting children to think mathematically. The focus of Wright's work is clearly on the development of a child's mathematical thinking through the development of numeration and place value understanding. Part of this is process is the application of the algorithmic procedures as a means of applying and practicing this understanding. In other words, the purpose of teaching algorithmic procedures has changed from primarily applying them to problem solving  to applying and practicing conceptual understanding of numeracy, number relations and all the various aspects of what it means to think mathematically.

Wolfram MathWorld is a pretty cool place for everything maths.


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