[Edu-sig] The Urner Approach to CP4E

Thomas O'Connor toconnor@vcd.hp.com
Wed, 07 Jun 2000 09:18:32 -0700

----------> Kirby Urner wrote:

> My logic is simple:
>   #1  Everybody should learn some math (a cultural given)
>   #2  These days, that means some programming (extrapolation)
>   ->> Ergo, everybody should learn some programming

I am a software engineer, former health phsicist (a sub-field of
nuclear engineering), currently working with a local high school on a
program to promote community partnerships.  The objective is to
involve professional scientists and engineers in secondary education
for the purpose of bringing real world context to math and science
curricula.  In other words, we are trying to answer the student
question: "When am I ever going to use this stuff?"  This is largely
where my interest in CP4E comes in.

While a computer geek, I am not particularly enthusiastic about the
use of technology in education.  I spend a considerable amount of time
sitting in the school observing, and what I observe is a system that
cannot afford pens for classroom white boards or specimines for
hands-on science, and that treats teachers like hourly assembly line
operators constantly expecting them to do more with less.  Yet the
schools seem to have an enormous budgets for soon to be obsolete
computers whose effectiveness in improving education is of dubious

That said, I will come to the defense Kirby Urner's approach to
connecting math and programming.  If I understand Kirby's approach
correctly, the objective is not to teach programming, it is to use
programming as a tool for manipulating abstract concepts.  

It is the same as handling and manipulating a mechanical assembly in
order to understand an isometric drawing of that assembly.  With
experience, the abstract drawings will reveal themselves without
having to resort to physical manipulation, but without the opportunity
to do the physical manipulation, the drawings are just a bunch of
lines scribbled on paper.

Speaking for myself, programming made abstract concepts like functions
and variable substition concrete.  It enlightened my view of
mathematics.  It is, I believe, a reasonable and effective use of
technology in the classroom.

Tom O'Connor