Conrad Wolfram’s response to the proposed new Primary Mathematics Curriculum

I have been reading Conrad Wolfram‘s well argued response to the ideas put forward this week in respect of the proposed new Primary Curriculum for Mathematics.


He was pleased to see that problem-solving had been incorporated into the proposed curriculum and that it was not too prescriptive. But to quote him: Where my support starts to diverge is with procedures for multiplying fractions (when did you last use this formally eg. 3/16 x 7/8?) and there’s a gaping chasm by the time we get to long-division (ever need to use that?).

He sees long-division as being a mechanical process and not related to problem-solving.He presents us with a really good example thus:

He states that it is exercises such as these that put many people off of mathematics. I couldn’t agree more. My memories of learning mathematics at school were of doing pages of long multiplications, multiplying fractions, dividing fractions (inverse the second fraction and multiply.. no-one ever explained why this worked just to do it). No subject unmotivated me more than mathematics  or made me long for the moment when I could give it all up and do something that really interested me.

I agree with Conrad Wolfram that the excitement of learning mathematics lies in exploration and problem solving. He is running a campaign called Computer Based Mathematics (see ) to encourage students to use computers to really explore powerful ideas in the subject. To quote him again: Instead of rote learning long-division procedures, let’s get students applying the power of calculus, picking holes in government statistics, designing a traffic system or cracking secret codes (so topical this month with Alan Turing’s anniversary and his computer-based code breaking). All are possible, all train both creativity, conceptual understanding and have practical results. But they need computers to do most of the calculating–just like we do in the real world.

The new Primary Curriculum could be a chance for the take a step into the future. To encourage children to play with mathematical ideas and to really get to know just how interesting and exciting it can be as a subject. Instead we may face yet another generation who are bored senseless and , like my younger self, counting the days till they can be put out of their misery and not have to do one more long division or work out a senseless percentage that bears no relevance to the real world!

Thank you Conrad for speaking out on behalf of what can be done. It would be wonderful (though unlikely) if the Government were to actually take heed of his words.



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