THE BLOG
11/30/2010 08:44 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Conrad Wolfram: Teaching Kids Real Math with Computers

From rockets to stock markets, many of humanity's most thrilling creations are powered by math. So why do kids lose interest in it? Conrad Wolfram says the part of math we teach -- calculation by hand -- isn't just tedious, it's mostly irrelevant to real mathematics and the real world. He presents his radical idea: teaching kids math through computer programming.

Conrad Wolfram is the strategic director of Wolfram Research, where his job, in a nutshell, is understanding and finding new uses for the Mathematica technology. Wolfram is especially passionate about finding uses for Mathematica outside of pure computation, using it as a development platform for products that help communicate big ideas. The Demonstrations tool, for instance, makes a compelling case for never writing out another equation -- instead displaying data in interactive, graphical form.

Wolfram's work points up the changing nature of math in the past 30 years, as we've moved from adding machines to calculators to sophisticated math software, allowing us to achieve ever more complex computational feats. But, Wolfram says, many schools are still focused on hand-calculating; using automation, such as a piece of software, to do math is sometimes seen as cheating. This keeps schools from spending the time they need on the new tools of science and mathematics. As they gain significance for everyday living, he suggests, we need to learn to take advantage of these tools and learn to use them young. Learn more at computerbasedmath.org.