Estonia Puts Math on the Map

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Estonia Puts Math on the Map

Wolfram Alpha duo dead set on redefining math curriculum, starting in Estonia

By Betsy Corcoran (Columnist)     Feb 11, 2013

Estonia Puts Math on the Map

ESTONIA'S NEW MATH: Eastern Europeans have been no slogs when it comes to math and computer programming. Add in starting up high-tech companies and the tiny country of Estonia shines, producing more than its share, including Skype. That may be why the country has an intense focus on math education.

Today, Estonia said it plans to adopt an innovative math curriculum developed by a UK-based group called Computer-Based Math. The effort is the brainchild of Conrad Wolfram, brother of Stephen Wolfram who cofounded Mathematica, a computational software program designed to help with project workflows in almost any industry.

Both Wolframs are dead set on their mission to redefine "math curriculum that contrasts with the critical and growing importance of math and its uses in the real world." They have been forceful proponents of letting computers handle calculations to allow teachers to focus mathematical education on concepts. In other words, rather than devoting a Calculus class to learning how to do derivatives and integrals, the Wolframs would spend time focusing on the application of calculus using real-world data sets.

They have been ambivalent at best about whether their approach will improve test scores."Standardized tests are often focused on students reproducing calculating procedures rather than understanding and applying math," notes the site's frequently asked questions. " believes that we should focus students on the understanding and application and delegate the procedural calculating steps to computers."

That said, the Computer-Based Math would involve re-teaching the teachers because the approach is very different from convention math classes.

Wolfram spoke about his effort in a 2010 TED talk here.

The effort was the focus of a math "summit" in 2011, and the duo has since been working with mathematics teachers and professors around the world to develop course material which the organization plans to make available in the coming months.

In a press release, Jaak Aaviksoo, Minister of Education and Research, Estonia, said, "In the last century, we [Estonia] led the world in connecting classrooms to the internet. Now we want to lead the world in rethinking education in the technology-driven world."

The Computer-Based Math program is still a work in progress: leaders there say that although it will not be a non-profit organization they have yet to decide on how they will fund its development in the long-term. The organization plans to make its materials freely available within Estonia and -- after a pilot year -- more broadly available.

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