Computers in the Math Classroom

This lecture proposes a solution to the problems facing mathematics education; specifically, Conrad argues that math education be revamped to become computer-centric in order to increase the relevance of the content to the real world. The structure of the speech and the rhetorical tactics employed are well-organized and methodical -in other words, exactly what we would expect from a mathematician.

Math education being a less-than-riveting topic, Conrad tactfully employs cold, hard facts in order to gain his audience’s attention and to establish the rhetorical motivation for his address, pointing out that though the need for mathematical understanding is greatest in our age of computers and global trade, mathematics education is not preparing individuals with the skills that they need in order to solve modern-day problems.  Rather than framing the issue as relevant only to educational officials, he frames it in terms of national security and fiscal success.

To make his argument, Conrad points to the fact that real-world math problems look very different from how they do in education -that problems that are taught in schools are somewhat “dumbed down” and do not mimic the models and simulations that scientists, economists, and statisticians face in the real world.   He illustrates a chasm between the real-world problems, which are “messy” and “complicated” but which utilize computers to do the computational steps, and classroom-based problems which are “simplistic” and entirely based on computation.  The purpose of this presentation is to illustrate how, if education takes advantage of computers in teaching math, this chasm can be closed.

Throughout the speech Conrad elaborately discusses the problem, breaking it down into its constitutive parts, and proposing a solution.  He uses a variety of metaphors and other linguistic tactics in order to illustrate his point to the audience.   The most effective metaphor used is that of automotive mechanics, arguing that one does not need to know how to fix a transmission in order to drive a car.  Linguistic tools are also used, particularly illustrative language such as the “chasm” that he illustrates between real-world and classroom math or the classification of computers as the “silver bullet” for math ed.  Moreso, he dramatically states that computers have “liberated” mathematics from calculation.

Possibly the most effective tool that he uses is to thoroughly cover the opposing viewpoint.  I was particularly impressed by this tactic because it is more than likely that his audience may not understand why mathematics education is the way it is or what the barriers are in the way of integrating computers into the curriculum.

To really push the point home at the end of the speech, he proposes that the country that is able to place computers in the math classroom first will “leap-frog” over others in achievement and knowledge base in the population.  I do not necessarily agree with his conclusion, that curriculum should be re-built “from the ground up”, because I feel that such an act would be absolutely disastrous, however it is difficult to dispute his argument because it is so thoroughly laid out over the course of the 17 minute presentation.

-Julia M.


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