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He is writing about math education. The characters (3/4)^(1/2) make sense to all of us who have already learned math and know some programming languages, but that syntax is pretty confusing to students who are just developing a real understanding of exponents.

There is plenty of room for automation in math education. But in a really good math education, the automated tools need to be balanced with more socially-oriented approaches to education. Students need to talk to each other and to good teachers about their work. Students need to see each other's approaches and hear each other's ideas, and have face-to-face conversations about math.

One could make the argument that any mathematical syntax is equally confusing for the novice--so why not start them on something they'll be using later anyways?

I think we presume a great deal in suggesting that a simple flat array of characters and operators is somehow less understandable than a nicely typeset equation (especially when you've never written one before!).

I was thinking the same thing. It might be better to learn this stuff at a console from the get-go.

One advantage would be that you could try invalid syntax and operations (i.e. x/0) and see the errors that result in real time as opposed to an hour or a day later after the teacher marks up your test. Then you're more likely to stick with it until you get it right, which in turn means the answer is more likely to stick with you.

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