How One Innovator is Transforming Math Education

By Dominick Cooper, Director of Launch Academy, 2012 Nominee for Young Entrepreneur of the Year, 2011 Winner of the DaVinci Scholar Award, and University Guest Speaker on Education

Stephen Wolfram was born in London in 1959, published his first scientific paper at the age of 15, and received his PhD from Caltech by the age of 20. Needless to say, he’s pretty good with numbers.

While getting his PhD in theoretical physics, he encountered many tedious, complex mathematical equations and began to wonder if maybe these very complex patterns could be simplified. In 1973, computers were starting to come onto the science scene and Stephen jumped in wholeheartedly. In 1981, he released the first modern computer algebra system – the mathematics behind your graphing calculator.

But Stephen wasn’t finished. In 1986, he released the first version of Mathematica – the new standard in mathematics program. But Stephen had a dream. He had a dream of making this
tool available to everyone and not a select few nerdy scientists and engineers. And in 2009, he did just that.
Wolfram|Alpha is a computation that has revolutionized science for millions of people every day. And it’s educational implications are incredible.

For thousands of years, mathematics and science has been taught with hardly any recognizable change. While smartboards and tablets are now being used, the true methodology has remained unchanged. Algebra II comes before Calculus, Chemistry before Physics, and so forth – but why? The reason for this ingrained hierarchy is the computational complexity – Calculus problems are harder to solve than algebra problems. But that’s about to change.

Math and science are much more than computations and calculations. Math and science are tools used to solve problems (and not whole-number, textbook problems). Thanks to Wolfram|Alpha and the developmends made by Wolfram Research, computations and calculations are virtually eliminated.

Wolfram|Alpha and Mathematica are also extremely user friendly. Handling subjects from elementary algebra to differential equations and even modeling pistons and magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs), every school subject can benefit from its capabilities. It’s also one of the major resources for Apple’s famous Siri interface.

Students can now concentrate on real-world applications, critical thinking, conceptual experimentation, and more exciting possibilities. As the world continues to grow more and more complex, a powerful computational engine that can branch across subjects will become a necessity.

Stephen’s brother and development partner, Conrad, gave a TED talk about transforming mathematics education and it’s an incredible idea. Schools preach that this is what we want to teach our students, but the real question is this – “are we ready for the leap from thousands of years of comfort into the technology of today?”
Stay Smart.

Dominick Cooper

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