Wolfram Alpha: Concept is King!

Friedman hints at it. Pink implies it (or he might flat out say it; I haven’t finished reading the book!). And now Wolfram|Alpha confirms it: Content is Dead, Concept is King!

There is no point in teaching my students how to become a CPA. There will always be somebody cheaper (and probably better at it) to do that work somewhere else in the world (Friedman). It will be your ability to think creatively that will allow you to flourish in this situation (Pink).

With the launch of W|A, my students now have a resource that will graph lines and find intercepts for them (among other things). My focus is no longer on the computational content; it now has to be on the creative concept. What does the graph mean?  Why is it relevant? It’s no longer enough to ask the students graph something just because: we now need a reason to want to interpret that graph. It needs context and connections, not abstraction and solitude.

I can understand Maria’s point when she says:

It does have the potential to seriously wreak havoc on the way we teach math today if students can simply copy all their work from an A.I. website.  Whether you think that it’s time that somebody forced a change, or whether you think it’s just hype and not really a threat, I think we should all be aware that after today, it exists.

But I think MsMichetti has right idea:

All those graphs, tables, new vocabulary, and more are useless without using Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) to sort them out and make sense of them. Why aren’t we teaching more visual literacy and data interpretation — in every subject area?

Let’s be clear: I am not advocating that students no longer need to learn how to graph functions or do symbolic algebraic manipulation. Of course these types of skills are important, but they should no longer be the main focus of our curriculum. If technology is like air (invisible, abundant and noticeable only when missing a la Chris Lehmann), then why wouldn’t I assume that at some point in the very near future – if not already – all of my students will have ubiquitous access to W|A and its inevitable improvements? What happens when W|A comes out with the killer mobile app that puts this knowledge in everybody’s hands at any time? Why would I fight/resist this change?

The jury is still out on the idea that Google has made us stupid. I’m adding more fuel to the similar W|A debate. But this much is clear: we can never put these genies back in their bottles. For better or for worse, we’re going to have to un-learn our old-school emphases on computation and recall and re-learnhow to harness their powers to focus on interpretation, analysis and synthesis of information.

Long live the King!

image: if i were king by Jason Nicholls
image: Genie’s Lamp by Davic

2 thoughts on “Wolfram Alpha: Concept is King!

  • May 19, 2009 at 8:24 am
    Permalink

    Thanks for the pingback, Captain Clint! One more thing – re: creativity – I completely agree with you about how the task at hand now is to put the content in context of creative concepts (say that 5 times fast!). Another good read in this area is Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds. It’s not a new book — and that perhaps is what is most enlightening about it. He saw this coming a long time ago. It’s been on the horizon and now Voici!

    Reply
  • May 28, 2009 at 11:34 pm
    Permalink

    @MsMichetti After your initial jaw-dropping (and my own), has W|A had any significant impact on your classroom yet? I wonder if everybody is still trying to figure out what to do with this newfangled thing!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*

CommentLuv badge