Yesterday I stumbled upon Keith Devlin's presentation, "Using video games to break the Symbol Barrier."
He had several points that I thought were interesting:
1) The complexity of everyday mathematics isn't necessarily because everyday maths is complex. It's because everyday maths relies too heavily on symbols. Everyone can do everyday math. The problem is with its traditional symbolic representation.
2) Until recently, the symbols associated with mathematics was a necessary evil. Symbols were the only technology available to store and distribute everyday math.
3) There are now better ways to store and distribute everyday math, that are just now being realized.
4) Wuzzit Trouble, a free iPad game that he helped develop, was one way he demonstrated a new way of learning math.
Here is his presentation:
KEITH DEVLIN: Using video games to break the Symbol Barrier from Keith Devlin on Vimeo.
I don't disagree- which I guess means I agree- that symbols get in the way of mathematical thinking. Defining what that thinking is, and how it translates into new learning tools, will be a big challenge in the foreseeable future.
I've played Wuzzit Trouble, and I understand the enthusiasm.
The problem with games that do away with symbols though is that the mathematical thinking involved when solving a game puzzle might not be so easily extrapolated to other platforms that require the same type of thinking. Mastery of a platform doesn't necessarily mean mastery of a mathematical idea.
So symbols have a place. They teach extrapolation of mathematical thinking across multiple platforms.
I don't know. Maybe they don't.
But in my experience that's mostly true.
And then there's the irony... Wuzzit Trouble wasn't developed without variables and symbols. I know this because all programming relies on variables and symbols.
But this doesn't mean I don't think it's a worthwhile venture. In my next post, I'll look at some math apps that develop mathematical thinking.