Capitol Comments

If you have a child somewhere in our education system, they have probably asked you offhandedly, “why do I need to learn how to do long division by hand when my calculator will do it for me?”  To that you probably said, “well, because it is important to know the basics before you use a machine to do it for you.”  But do you still believe that after a little in-depth thought on the matter?  Have you done long division by hand since finishing high school?  A better question might be: what are the “basics” that we say are so important?  Conrad Wolfram, the strategic director of Wolfram Research, challenges our current approach to math education and is pushing education systems to stop teaching calculating and start teaching math.

The National Research Council (NRC) recently released a revised approach to K-12 science education focused on “key scientific ideas and practices” important for all students prior to the end of high school.

Sometimes it seems as if the way we educate, at both the K-12 and post-secondary levels, has changed more in the last decade than the 5 decades preceding it.  Since the end of the 90’s computer use and the internet have become commonplace, libraries have become a place simply for studying and socializing instead of be-all and end-all information hubs, and kids are more likely to know text-speak instead of how to write in cursive.  Trying to convince children of the importance of knowing how to do long division by hand has become very hard in a world where every electronic device we own has a calculator built-in.  But as much as things have changed, a small device called the iPad promises to change the way we educate yet again, whether we want it to or not.

Within the last 20 years we have gone from interacting with information by tediously sifting through thousands of pages of text at our local libraries to instantly accessing information whenever we want it, wherever we are.  We take this information at face value and seemingly put all of our trust in the first Google hit that we get in response to our search query.  While our increasing access to information is assuredly transforming our world for the better, information assimilated without understanding or review can quickly lead us to false paradigms that are difficult to change. 

With national initiatives in place to increase educational standards (specifically the No Child Left Behind Act) there comes the inevitable need for progress assessment.  Many class subjects lend themselves well to a more traditional “multiple choice” testing format, but science assessment has struggled to employ this technique effectively.  Science education combines a mixture of rote memorization, which can be tested by traditional methods, with an understanding of the scientific method, problem solving, and deeper scientific inquiry, which are difficult to summarize for the purpose of answering “A, B, C or D”.