Our expert talks: Math Education in the Digital Age #1

By in Sunil's sandbox

How should kids be learning Math today? In this new article about 21st century Math education, our expert Sunil Singh pursues his reflection by considering the contributions of the digital revolution in learning.

Minecraft, TED Talks, passionate Youtubers creating science videos,… the digital revolution has offered new, free opportunities for mass learning and skills development. By bringing knowledge out of classrooms and private seminars and by revealing the most entertaining ways to learn, the digital revolution carries the seeds of contemporary education.

A video on that topic will follow. If you want to ask Sunil some questions or share with him how the Digital revolution may have transformed your own way to teach Math, let us know in the comments.

What The Digital Revolution In Learning Did To Analog Math Education: Part I

My kids are home from school. Their mom has some snack bowls ready with apples, grapes or oranges. Soon the munching of fruit will be spliced with back-and-forth communication. Dialogue that is spiked with curiosity and initiative. Another day of exploration, self-teaching and problem-solving has begun–after school. Like millions of kids, mine are fully engrossed in the world of Minecraft. Minecraft, intentionally or not, has created a virtual sandbox that is limited only by imagination. Endless and valuable play is framed by needed skills of math and geometry. Spatial reasoning is a living and breathing commodity in the world of Minecraft.

Since the premise of Minecraft is about open exploration and discovery, kids flock to any resource that can help them solve some of the tougher challenges and puzzles. This resource is YouTube–the self-appointed “Library of Everything!” Jordan Maron has over 9 million subscribers to his Minecraft tutorial channel. Almost all his videos easily eclipse one million views.

While there are many staggering numbers regarding YouTube–now over ten years old–the one that symbolizes the currency and reach of this video-sharing website is that there are now over one billion users. The learning of students is beyond just digital–it is a networking framework that embeds knowledge in outcomes that are experiential, auditory, visual and social.

Minecraft not only is symbolic of what kids should be learning–open-ended problem solving–but, more importantly, how they should be learning. The current state of math education has been requiring a status update for several decades now. Static textbooks. Socratic lessons. Mathematics that–for the most part–is literally from The Dark Ages. Quadratics and trigonometry, the bread and butter of most high school mathematics, was well established by the 9th century. And, if YouTube did not come along, the illumination of mathematics as a colourful and vibrant art form would have been delayed at best. At worst, remained as a dreary black and white portrait of rules, algorithms and procedures.

But, luckily for us, the creative mathematical spirits that were locked in urban and rural islands are now free to be heard, read and viewed in milliseconds on fixed and mobile devices.

YouTube since its inception in 2005 is one of many social media channels that allow anyone with passion and purpose to display and spread their ideas and express themselves.

And, Dan Meyer’s groundbreaking 2010 TED Talk Math Class Needs a Makeover more than alluded to this quagmire, it confidently announced that the revolution was afoot–and it would be… televised! The current attempt by most schools is to teach math that is without thematic development, recognition of global history, and trumpeting of current endeavors. Proof? Most people see math as closed, dead, and all discovered. Reduced to a clinical autopsy, math education has mostly excised benign “what” questions — leaving the exploratory and imaginative “why” questions in distant margins. Learning that is rooted in passive reception of information will endanger both comprehension and curiosity

Which is why the discussions and debates in math education have been much ado about nothing — perfectly mirroring the stagnation in its curriculum development and delivery. “New Math vs. Old Math” and “Discovery Learning vs. Rote Learning” have been the tired staples of bureaucratic debates, disguised cleverly as meaningful and contemporary discussions in mathematics. Paul Lockhart, author of the smash-mouth book on contemporary math education, A Mathematician’s Lament: How School Cheats Us Out Of Our Most Fascinating and Imaginative Art Form, chalked up all these loggerhead discussions to be akin to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”.

And, up until 2005, these debates had a relevance that was still incorrectly known to be high. This was the year YouTube was born — the Big Bang of this new Information Age. Our intersection of mathematics was, for the first time in history, no longer handcuffed to the classrooms of education.

What was liberated was beyond our wildest dreams. It was the stuff of pure imagination!

Sunil Singh
Math Specialist and Buzzmath expert

Next Time: What The Digital Revolution In Learning Did To Analog Math Education: Part II