Saturday, October 5, 2013

Teaching Kids "Real Math", and Writing and Social Studies and...

Conrad Wolfram's TED Talk addresses the problems with decreasing math proficiency in schools today and suggests that the cure to the problem is to use computers to teach math.  He claims that schools put too much emphasis on calculating by hand.  He says that computers were created to do calculations and that doing hand calculations is an ancient subject.  His argument is that in the real world engineers and others use computers to do mathematical calculations.

We should be teaching students to do things they way they are done in real life. They need to learn skills that they will utilize in their future. As Wolfram says, the best way to solve a problem is to use the right tool for the job.  I think what he says about math can apply to any subject.  When teaching writing, whether it be creative or persuasive writing, why make kids use paper and pen instead of using a computer.  When they get out of school, if they get a job working in an environment where communication is done by computer, they are going to need to be able to communicate electronically, and I don't mean via texting.  Computers can do the menial tasks, like spell checking, so that the students can focus on the task of formulating their ideas and getting their point across to the reader.  With applications like Dragon, Kurzweil, or Text Help, students can work on getting to the point of their writing, rather than the mechanics of spelling the words. Most mobile devices have built in spelling and reading assistance as well.

Yes, these are assistive technologies, but some people need assistance.  I like to compare the use of technology to assist people with difficulties to wearing glasses to see.  Would you say that the person wearing glasses has an advantage or is cheating?  Maybe in Ben Franklin's day that might have been the discussion, but we are living in the 21st century now.

The same could be said for social studies, or science or economics.  Why learn about other countries from a book, when you could connect and collaborate with students from another country via Skype?  There are lots of sites with economics information (like the US Debt Clock) or science simulations. This is authentic learning!

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