Conrad Wolfram on Teaching Maths with Computers: Dangerously Wrong

So I just watched this TED talk about teaching kids maths using computers:
He makes some excellent points in it but IMHO his argument is deeply flawed.
So who rattled the bars of your cage?: It’s a fair point, I may know about teaching geography with computers but what do I know about teaching math? Well, in my past I spent time teaching maths to geologists undergrads with low academic achievement and I’ve also been on a team that built an online set of materials teaching maths to geologists (which has now disappeared from the web).
Maths by Hand: I agree with Conrad that hand calculation of maths problems is not good training for our school students, as he points out its a relatively small, uninteresting part of a bigger question. Getting students to define a real world problem in maths terms and then understand how the numerical answer is limited is more difficult and much more important.
So what’s wrong?: The techniques that he advocates – e.g. using real world examples or verifying the answers, are aspects of constructivism which is not necessarily about using computers and has been around for years. He goes on to advocate programming as necessarily giving students a good grounding in maths, again, this approach is nothing new, logo programming was put forward as a way to teach students math techniques in the 80s. As this review reveals, the technology has a lot of merit but testing results were far from conclusive. As an example, when discussing the use of logo programming to teach geometry it says:
“In summary, studies show that success [teaching geometry with logo] requires thoughtful sequences of Logo activities and much teacher intervention. That is, Logo’s potential to develop geometric ideas will be fulfilled if teachers help shape their students’ Logo experiences and help them to think about and make connections between Logo learning and other knowledge the student might have”
(emphasis mine) Doesn’t sound a lot like Conrad’s silver bullet does it?
History of Technology and Education: The phrase ‘computers as a silver bullet’ worries me because I researched the history of Technology in Education recently. What I found is that numerous times the technology of the day has been touted as offering a paradigm shift in improving education but every time the it is later found to have over hyped. Examples in the 20th century were radio, film, TV and computers (Penrose talk prezi slides 4 to 8) all of which failed to deliver because the students’ needs were lost in the application of a a silver bullet technology. To be fair Conrad does mention that computers can deliver poor teaching but he maintains that programming is the silver bullet for math teaching.
Conclusion: Students’s educational needs are complex to meet and require experienced teachers using whatever technology is appropriate to the task at hand be that computers or a big bit of paper with some felt tip pens. Teaching technologies touted as silver bullets have always been, and will always be, a dangerous distraction.

Google URL Shortener gets an API

When we launched Google’s URL shortener externally back in September, there was no accompanying API to allow people to integrate into their applications and web pages. However, we said that we were working on one, and today we’re happy to announce that we’ve launched the API in Google Code Labs. The documentation can be found on the Google Code site, with example code in the Getting Started section.

With this API, developers are able to programmatically access all of the fast, sleek goodness that we currently provide via the web interface. You can shorten and expand URLs using the API, as well as fetch your history and analytics. You could use these features for a wide variety of applications, enabling behaviors ranging from auto-shortening within Twitter or Google Buzz clients to running regular jobs that monitor your usage statistics and traffic patterns. You can check out the Google APIs console to get started.

We’re very excited to be able to offer you this API to access one of the fastest URL shorteners out there. We’re continuing to work on several usability improvements and to make our auto-detection of spammy or malicious content even more robust. We hope that with the new API, you’ll find to be even more useful in your future shortening endeavors! If you’re an application developer, check out the API documentation and see how it looks.

Street View in Romania

Bram Stoker’s world famous novel Dracula was believed to have been inspired by fifteenth century Wallachian Prince, Vlad Dracul from Romania (better known to many as Vlad the Impaler). The legend of the vampire is still deeply rooted in Transylvanian culture today, and tourists from across the world come to explore the history and mystery of the many beautiful castles that can be found here.
But of course those aren’t all the sights Romania has to offer, and now you can see for yourself, because today we’re making 360-degree Street View imagery available in Romania for several cities and roads.
From your virtual vantage point, you can now take a look over the bridge onto Lacul Vidraru (Vidraru Lake). This is the starting point of the most beautiful road in Romania, the Transfăgărășan mountain pass, which at its highest point reaches 2,034 meters above sea level:
Or check out the summer residence of Romanian Kings, Castelul Peleș (Peleș Castle):
It’s not just Paris that has an Arc de Triomphe. You can whizz round the Romanian
Arcul de Triumf in the capital Bucharest:
And here’s our parliamentary palace, Palatul Parlamentului (Parliament Palace):
There’s heaps to explore but I’ll leave you with one final tip, and that’s to visit
Vatra Ardealului, my favorite cofee shop in Brasov, which you can see below:
Welcome to Romania and enjoy your virtual exploration!