[Edu-sig] Teaching Middle-School Math with Python

Randy Latimer rlatimer@tjhsst.edu
Fri, 6 Oct 2000 12:24:34 -0400 (EDT)

I know it's an old old language, probably in the ancient
"has-been" status, but Logo was a nice intro programming language in a 
style other than the "standard" way of programming (fortran, basic,
pascal, c, c++, java etc) that almost took off.  
I still like it, but I'm
an old guy. 
Randy Latimer

On Fri, 6 Oct 2000, Fred Bartlett wrote:

> Has anyone had any success in changing public-school math curricula at
> the middle-school level?
> I've been busily learning Python while my daughter has been busily
> learning 6th-grade math. The contrast between the two experiences is
> considerable: I can learn Python in a clear, clean, organized way; my
> daughter can't learn math that way -- well, she _could_, but her
> textbook militates against it.
> Her textbook takes a "problem-solving" approach and teaches "high-level"
> thinking. By this they mean, I think, large numbers of word problems.
> That would be fine, of course, if they did it right. But they seem to be
> teaching heuristics rather than algorithms -- that is, each kind of
> problem is treated as if it were sui generis.
> I was especially saddened -- and motivated -- when she asked me, "How
> could anyone ever be interested in this stuff?"
> I began to muse that an introduction to programming could both help kids
> see the connections among types of problems and provide a salutary dose
> of rigor to the curriculum. (Donald Knuth said somewhere that one can't
> really be sure that one understands something until one can teach a
> computer to do it.)
> The only other languages I found in my web searches used below the
> college level were Java, C/C++, (Visual)Basic, and Scheme -- none of
> which would be appropriate at the level I'm contemplating. But Python,
> for all its virtues, is a relatively obscure language. It's a good bet
> that no one at the Board of Ed has heard of it!
> Meanwhile, I found out about our "technology" curriculum from middle
> through high school: It's all Microsoft, so we're paying tens or
> hundreds of thousands of dollars for license fees. (I'm sure no one here
> will defend that practice!) I would like to change that, too.
> Kirby Urner has done some interesting things with algebra and beyond;
> but I didn't find any pre-algebra math at his site.
> Hans Magnus Enzensberger's _The Number Devil_ contains the kind of math
> I'm looking for: simple -- but interesting! -- applications of basic
> arithmetic on the integers (and, soon enough, the reals).
> So -- any hints for me out there?
> Thanks!
> Fred
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