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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

More Education Snippets

While searching for something else recently, I stumbled across (isn't the internet great!) yet another brief essay regarding math education that piqued my interest:

http://thealternativepress.com/articles/learning-off-the-clock-in-search-of-a-timeless-u

The ultimate focus seems to be on Mathnasium Learning Centers, and so while I'm linking to the piece, it is not intended as an endorsement of Mathnasium, which I have no connection to or experience with (except having driven by their facilities on occasion). I did quickly scan a number of reviews of them on the Web which mostly seemed quite positive (I suspect some of my readers are much more acquainted with them than I am though).

The piece starts off thusly:
"It is tempting to compare our brains to computers, but when it comes to speed, a neuron takes its time, sending signals at a maximum of 180 miles (280 km) per hour, the top speed of a Formula One racecar, or a quarter of the speed of sound. In comparison, an electrical circuit approaches the speed of light, which is 671 million miles (1.08 billion km) per hour. Clearly, speed is not our strong suit when we are pitted against a circuit board. Our advantage is understanding – not mindlessly crunching ones and zeros. Yet for some reason, math educators continue to emphasize speed at the expense of humanity's greater gifts of interpretation and problem solving."
On a sidenote, Keith Devlin anticipates his upcoming (fall) online math course, and how others may help with it, here:

http://mooctalk.org/2012/05/08/help-wanted/

As someone who used to limit his classes to 20 students, Devlin realizes how daunting it will be to potentially reach 10's of 1000's. He calls for the involvement of other mathematicians to assist him in the effort:
"I’m going to make my course just five weeks long, starting in early October. By incorporating participation in my Stanford course as part of your students’ learning experience, everyone could benefit. For one thing, your students are likely to be inspired by being part of an educational revolution that for millions of less privileged people around the globe can quite literally be life changing.
"Because they will be supported by being part of a physical learning community, with the personal support of you, their instructor, your students will be highly empowered, privileged members of that online community. They can take advantage of your support so that they can help others. And as we all know, there is no more powerful way to learn than to try to teach others...
"...if instructors and their students across the US join me, then maybe we can collectively achieve something remarkable...
"Those of us in education know how it can change lives... Please join me this fall as we learn how to teach the world."
It is exciting to see a 'luminary' of sorts with the recognition and following of Keith Devlin so enthusiastic to experiment with this brave new world of digital math education to the masses. I'm sure the initial glitches and weaknesses of such attempts will be many... but also sure that, with time and effort, they're surmountable.

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