Thursday, February 17, 2011

What do we teach and why do we teach it?

I taught Maths for five years from the age of 22 to 24...
-- Joke borrowed from Fred MacAulay

I usually describe myself as a Computing teacher but I wanted to make my Maths credentials clear right at the start for reasons that will hopefully become clear.

A couple of things started me thinking about this post: first was a conversation about the curriculum I had with a Chartered Teacher student; the second was a video of a TED Talk. The conversation with the student was about the balance between content and process. I asserted that much of what we teach in schools is taught because that's the way we have always done it. I also described how most years I deliberately wind up the Maths students (and at least some Primary students) by telling them we are wasting pupils' time when we get them to memorise their times tables; it is a completely redundant skill. I do this partly to annoy them but mostly to get them thinking about what we teach and why we teach it.

The TED Talk was from Conrad Wolfram and it is embedded below:

A couple of things in particular struck me about this talk. First, about halfway through he says that a great way to teach Maths is to teach programming. Second, towards the end, when he is talking about the radical changes to school Maths that are needed, he says that he is not even sure it should be called Maths any more. My immediate thought was: what he is proposing already exists... and it is called Computing!

I have posted before about the identity crisis school Computing teachers are facing (e.g. Computing: The Science of the Digital World) and it struck me that this call to shake up the Maths curriculum is one of the best defences of Computing that I have heard in a long time. So:

Computing is the new Maths

What do you think?

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