December 18, 2019
Do you think that we should teach physics before math? Is that possible?
I don’t think physics is the thing. I think computation is the thing that is the paradigm of today’s world, just as a few hundred years ago it was a big deal when people realized you could use math to figure out stuff about the world. That’s what led to modern physics, modern engineering, things like this. The big thing in today’s world is that we can use computation to figure things out, and it turns out you can teach the ideas of computation, which is different from programming…
The ideas of computation you can teach, and it’s very nice because it’s very self-learnable, and it doesn’t have the feature that math has where if somebody says, “What’s seven times eight?” and you say, “It’s 55”. “No, that’s not right. It’s 56”. You kind of just have to be told what’s right. Whereas, if you’re doing things computationally and you’re using a computer, you tell the computer, “Do this”. The computer does something totally crazy. You can see for yourself that something happened that was wrong, and there isn’t some teacher telling you that. It’s something that you can see for yourself and have the interaction yourself.
I think teaching computation is a great way into teaching systematic thinking and so on. In fact, if you learn a certain amount about computation, a bunch of the things that people say, “That’s so abstract. That’s so hard to understand about math”, become really quite easy to understand because you have a concrete foundation for thinking about the things and exploring the things and so on.