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Re: Mathematica and Education

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  • Subject: [mg65725] Re: Mathematica and Education
  • From: Bill Rowe <readnewsciv at>
  • Date: Sun, 16 Apr 2006 03:48:51 -0400 (EDT)
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at

[This post has been delayed due to email problems - moderator]

On 3/15/06 at 6:28 AM, peter.king at (King, Peter R)

>I think actually we are possibly talking at cross purposes.
>Although I also think this leads to some interesting points. I was
>responding in the first instance to a post from a student who had
>proudly proclaimed that he had done all of his assigments without
>using pen and paper at all and only in Mathematica. My view is that
>this is dangerous for the reasons outlined. And in fact my concern
>is not for the professional technical expert (or the prospective
>ones). In my experience a good student who is capable and motivated
>to understand the material will do so and tools like Mathematica
>can make this an even more exciting experience. For them I would
>agree 100% with what you have said. However, poorer students will
>simply learn how to use the tool as a black box.

While I understand the concern you are raising, I don't see that requiring anyone to use paper and pencil rather than Mathematica as being a solution. After all, paper and pencil are just different tools. They don't confer greater understanding of mathematics than any other tool. In fact, one could make an argument the greater experimentation possible with Mathematica makes it the tool that is likely to result in greater understanding. Of course this assumes the student takes advantage of that capability. And likely, students likely to treat Mathematica as a block box will not avail themselves of this capability.

For example, consider the computation of simple statistics such as the mean or median of a data set. The mechanics of this computation is easily learned and easily done either with Mathematica or paper and pencil. But neither Mathematica nor paper and pencil will confer any understanding as to why one or the other (mean or median) should be used and what they signify about the data set.

>Superficially they will look as skilled as the others because they can
>produce a glossy presentation and they can end up causing alot of
>trouble (I am absolutely serious about this I have seen it - not with
>Mathematica but with other commercial software, which is where my fool
>with a tool quote came from).

That isn't an issue with the software. Instead, this issue is a lack of critical thinking about presentations by the audience. With an audience that employs critical thinking and has the background to understand the presentation, a glossy presentation will not hide a lack of skill in the subject on the part of the presentation creator.
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