Technology has evolved tremendously, especially more so over the past decade in a breathless, continuous sprint. Think: from landlines and pagers to cell phones to smart phones. From paperbacks and newspapers to Kindle and iPads. From compact discs and cumbersome CRT television sets to miniature MP3 devices and sleek 3D-enabled high definition flat screens. From physically bulky tower servers to nimble cloud computing. So on and so forth. This transformation ultimately and inevitably spilled over into various genres of livelihoods. On the education front, classroom learning hauled ass with Mathematics leading the revolution. Once upon a time there were only scientific calculators, now advanced handheld graphing machines dominate the student market. With an internet connection, the entire world library is brought right to your doorstep. Digesting geometry, algebra and calculus has been made a million times more fun and easier with online interactive applications such as Wolfram Alpha and GeoGebra. A gigantic virtual maths instructional video vault at Khan Academy is always ready at your disposal should you find certain new concepts taught in school less than palatable and desire immediate clarifications. Facebook and Twitter now enable both educators and students to share/ discuss ideas instantaneously without having to meet up face to face.
Winding the clocks back, a century ago, if you narrated the above to a chalk wielding, duster feather armed teacher in that era, you would have been dismissed as a loony. But it is this mad streak in mankind to innovate and surge foward that has successfully turned all these into reality. Fast forward a hundred years from the present, how would maths lessons be delivered to future generations? In the same vein of creative wackiness and fantasising about the seemingly impossible, I shall present a few hypotheses. Suspension of disbelief is highly recommended before reading on.
1. Biological Plug and Play.
Hybridising the human being with computer technology could happen. Imagine a biological interface embedded within us which mimics the universal serial bus (USB) transfer system. Hook yourself up to a data booth and download the content for the next trigonometry class. No more textbooks needed. Everything is stored in the head. The days of forgetting complicated formulae will be truly over.
2. Holographic Spatial Gesturing Interface
Think Tom Cruise in Minority Report elegantly commanding and manipulating apparition-like 3D models with just his hands and words. No more typing sophisticated algorithms on the keyboard to simulate stuff, no more painful visualisations in the head when dealing with triple integrals during tutorials. Vectors and topology would be so well loved.
3. Android Teachers
If R2-D2 (from star wars) had vocal cords and was on steroids, it might make a real good tutor. I know some of my peers will hate me for saying this, but eventually human teachers might become obsolete. “Tuition fees” would then simply revolve around robot maintenance and firmware upgrades. It will no longer cost an arm and a leg to obtain a maths degree.
4. Surgical Neural Reprogramming
How do you rid a student of his/her propensity to be obscenely careless when performing routine mathematical calculations? In time to come, perhaps a new style of neurosurgery might offer an effective cure. Something non-invasive, its basis definitely divorced from the insanely painful lobotomy procedures. Who knows, such reprogramming methods could be enhanced to eliminate other bad habits maths students make.
And there you have it, my dreamy predictions for the year 2111 and beyond. I would be long gone by then. Time to snap back to reality and prepare the next set of worksheets for my students. You should too.
Frederick Koh is a teacher residing in Singapore who specialises in teaching the A level maths curriculum. He has accumulated more than a decade of tutoring experience and loves to share his passion for mathematics on his personal site www.whitegroupmaths.com .