Real math, real science, real children, real computing

Boulder Sampler - Spotlighting the host institution: University of Colorado at Boulder
Sunday, November 23, 2003
11:15 - 12:00 pm

Alan Kay, President, Viewpoints Research Institute and Hewlett-Packard Fellow

To mathematicians and scientists, the overlap between the "school versions" of their fields and how they think about them is small to almost nonexistent. "Math" is most often taught in schools as "how to calculate and solve simple problems by applying learned patterns". Science is most often taught as a new kind of secular dogma of "facts to be believed". But to those fluent in fields like science, math, art, music and sports what they do is "hard fun" and "deep art".

An important goal in education is to find ways to help children learn real subjects, ideas, processes and thinking patterns as the arts and fun they are. But children are not defective adults to be "fixed" by school processes. So attempts to teach children caricatures of the adult fields -- e.g. "new math" in the 60s -- have been embarrassing failures. "Real children" need "Real Subject" curricula that fit how they think.

Experience over the last 40 years has shown how exciting and important parts of "real math" can be deeply learned by children using special computer environments that allow them to construct dynamic mathematics directly with deep and artistic significance. This real computer math can then be used in conjunction with explorations in the physical world to help them learn real science by actually doing it and building from scratch working simulations of their models. Many examples drawn from more than 30 years of experience will be shown.