# Opinion 15: Giving Tons of Homework and Grading Tough
Should not Conflict
with Using Computers in the Classroom

## By: Doron Zeilberger

Written: March 19, 1997

[Inspired by George Andrews's essay in the Notices of 4/97, v. 44, 458-462.]

Boys will be boys, and conservatives will be conservatives.
Conservatives hate anything new, and believe that
all we need is to go back to the good-old-days when
only boys like Dick and George got an A in Math, and
half of the class got C's and F's. Another good thing about
the good-old-days was tons of homework, to shape your mind
up and keep you off the streets. Since the good-old-days
were so good, we should also keep teaching the same old stuff,
or modify it to some extent, but no calculators and computers please!

Well, I agree that homework is good. I less agree about
being a tough grader, but perhaps we need sharp sticks and
sharp carrots. But, having old-time-discipline does not mean
that we have to teach the old boring stuff. It is a myth
the people a generation or two ago were better in math.
Of course, every store-keeper had the algorithm for addition
and subtraction programmed into them, but, conceptually, they
were just as dumb, if not dumber, than today's Joe Average.

The computer is a wonderful tool, that already is making
95 percent of the old curriculum obsolete. We should teach
our students how to use the computer. And, knowing how to
press keys on the computer to get it to do meaningful stuff
is analogous to playing a sonata on the piano, not playing a CD!
There is nothing wrong in using a calculator to verify
the identity 1/2=.5, as long as you do it correctly.

Most importantly, teach your children how to program!
This will develop their minds much faster than any of
the traditional curriculum, including, memorizing
proofs in Euclidean Geometry, and being able to make minor
variations, without really understanding the notion of
proof.

I used to think that in order to understand a mathematical
statement I needed a proof. Nonsense. While the top
10 percent of proofs do indeed give insight, most of them
are just boring strings of assertions that lead from hypothesis
to conclusion. Myself, when I want to understand something,
I program it! Including proofs!

It is regrettable that with the advent of user-friendly
software packages, the practical need to program is diminishing.
Nevertheless, as a pedagogical tool, it beats anything else!

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