Subtitles and transcripts of podcasts

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For Russian readers / Для русскоязычных читателей: Для некоторых подкастов, описанных в блоге, например, для подкастов на сайте, есть субтитры и записи текстов. Под видео выберите Subtitles available in Russian, а справа от видео выберите Open interactive transcript.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

How to improve math education

Something must be wrong with math education, because so many TEDsters have been rushing to save it! I found these 3 podcasts interesting and provocative.
Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover | Video on
(video, 16 min)
Dan Meyer, a high-school math teacher, suggests in this smart and funny podcast to improve math education by making math problems less cookie-cutter, requiring more thinking, and encouraging patient problem solving. Meyer compares most math and science problems in current textbooks to mindless sitcoms. In one example problem, the students are given 3 pieces of data, and all they have to do is to plug them into a formula. When was the last time you had a real world problem, in which you had no extra and no missing pieces of data?
In another example problem, Meyer shows an interesting question, which, when posed properly, can help develop in students the ability to think about point labels, grid measurements, and line slopes.

Instead, in the textbook version (pictured here), the problem is dumbed down from real life level to "plug into the formula" level, which makes thinking unnecessary. The workaround that Meyer uses is his daily practice is to rewrite the textbook problems to make them less helpful. In one example, he changed a textbook math problem ("how long does it take to fill a water tank?"). Meyer eliminated all the input data, all the "helpful" intermediate steps, and replaced the precise answer key with an imprecise real life measurement. The students had to figure out what input data they need to solve the problem, get through all the intermediate steps by patient thinking, and verify the answer by comparing it with imprecise (real world!) answer key.

Conrad Wolfram: Teaching kids real math with computers | Video on
(video, 20 min)
Conrad Wolfram proposes to improve math education by using computers correctly, namely to let computers do the calculations currently done by hand. He suggests to free up the vast time spent on manual calculations to do more creative tasks, such as learning to translate real life problems into the language of mathematics and to verify mathematical solutions in real life. Some manual computation is useful, for example performing mental arithmetic for making quick estimates. And if someone is interested in hand computation, by all means they should do that. But hand computation is a discipline that, due to ubiquity of computers, is almost in the same category now as Ancient Greek, and thus should not be forced upon most people.
Conrad Wolfram, strategic director of Wolfram Research and the brother of the creator of the Mathematica software Stephen Wolfram, stands to benefit financially from this New Kind of Math Education. But, financial conflict of interest aside, I think he makes a good point.

Arthur Benjamin's formula for changing math education | Video on
(video, 3 min)
Professor of math at Harvey Mudd College, a performer of astounding mental calculations and book author Arthur Benjamin suggests that the pinnacle of math education for all high school students should be probability and statistics, rather than calculus, as it is now. Very few people use calculus in their day to day lives. But a lot more people use (or can benefit from using) statistics. Obviously, this is not about banning calculus in high school (study it if that's what you want), but about a shift towards more sensible priorities for most people.

What do you think? Is the current math education "good enough"? What would you change?

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