Symbols of Success: New Representations for Teaching and Doing Mathematics

Saturday, February 18, 2017: 1:30 PM-1:45 PM
Room 308 (Hynes Convention Center)
Our modern conception of mathematics was largely shaped by a 15th Century technology: the printing press. While mathematics has always been done using symbolic representations, prior to the introduction of the printing press, books were written in prose, to ensure accurate reproduction by hand copying. The printing press made it possible to use symbolic expressions, leading to the introduction of symbolic algebra in the 16th Century.

While symbolic representations are powerful in doing mathematics, it has been known since the early 1990s that much of the difficulty people have learning mathematics is because of the symbolic interface.

The modern tablet computer ("paper on steroids") offers the possibilty of developing alternative representations.

Applications to K-12 mathematics teaching have already been developed and promise to have a significant impact on mathematics learning.

We can expect novel representations to play a role in doing (some) mathematics as well. [Indeed, it is arguable that graphing apps and the electronic spreadsheet are existing examples, albeit ones that do not make essential use of a touch screen.]

Keith Devlin, Stanford University
Jay Labov, National Academy of Sciences