CICERO Learning Guest Lecture November 30, 2017 by Keith Devlin, Stanford University

Executive Director, Dr. Keith Devlin (H-STAR Institute, Stanford University) will give a guest lecture at University of Helsinki. The event is free of charge and does not require registration. Welcome!

Date and place

November 30, 2017, at 12:15-13:30

Seminar room K222.1-2, Minerva Plaza, K2 floor, Minerva Building Siltavuorenpenger 5A

Title of lecture

Breaking the Symbol Barrier – a New Approach to Learning Mathematics


We have known since the publication of the book Street Mathematics and School Mathematics by Nunes et al in 1993 that children (and adults) learn and perform mathematics far more effectively when they engage with it in a real-life context as opposed to the formal symbols of abstract mathematics. The problems so many have with mathematics are rooted not in the mathematical thinking (at the conceptual level) but the ”interface” issues of handling an abstract linguistic structure. I have spent the last ten years developing and testing alternative representations of various mathematical concepts in an attempt to “break the symbol barrier (to effective math learning)” that Street Mathematics highlighted. I will talk about three of those alternative representations (one already available in app form, the other two in the final stages of development) and discuss some of the research that has been carried out on those three learning apps and others designed in a similar way. I will also say something about the possibilities for transfer, both from one mathematical concept to another when carried out in a “symbol free” way, and from “symbol free” learning to mastery of the same concept using traditional symbolic representations.

Dr. Keith Devlin is a co-founder and Executive Director of the university's H-STAR institute, a co-founder of the Stanford mediaX research network, and a Senior Researcher at CSLI. His current research is focused on the use of different media to teach and communicate mathematics to diverse audiences. He has written 33 books and over 80 published research articles. Recipient of the Pythagoras Prize, the Peano Prize, the Carl Sagan Award, and the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications Award.
You can read more about Dr. Devlin here.