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

Kirby Urner pdx4d@teleport.com
Tue, 10 Oct 2000 12:40:43 -0700

At 12:00 PM 10/10/2000 -0500, Matthias Felleisen wrote:
>Kirby .. 
>The goals of TeachScheme and your goals are similar, not the same. 
>We want to bring programming to mathematics and (here is the diff)
>"mathematics" to programming. (Watch the quotes before you flame. 
>They mean something.) If you succeed, I am happy. It's an improvement 
>over what we have in schools. Indeed, if you succeed, we don't need

Under no circumstances would I want my success to mean "we don't
need Scheme".  That whole branch of the language family embodies 
a valuable a meme pool (lots of good ideas) and needs to keep 

As for bringing "mathematics" to programming, I assume you mean
the uncompromising, logical core of Scheme.  That's partly what 
makes the learning curve a bit steep, at least initially (I've
seen some of your excellent teaching materials, accessible to 
kids, but inevitably some will want to skip over cons, car and 
cdr before diving in).

Likewise, some teachers will inevitably be scared off by prefix 
notation and the heavy use of recursion, or, if not scared, will 
simply choose not to go there initially.  

Python may be presented in such a way as to keep those doors open.  
It can serve as a stepping stone to Java, certainly, but also to 
LISP, Scheme or even Haskell (and of course it's also an end 
in itself, not just a way station, like any mature-enough 

>You also write: 
>>  and that's knowledge you can intelligently build on, not dismiss as
>>  irrelevant or (worse) incapacitating.
>I don't know what this means. I didn't dismiss Python and your idea of
>teaching in middle schools. We have done it and I wrote a note on our 

This was more in in response Shririam's feedback, after that positive
review of my curriculum writing at the O'Reilly website:[1]

   Gee, great.

   I can never tell how to appropriately applaud your work.  
   In the process of your extremely laudable efforts at 
   educating people about math, you'll end up miseducating 
   people about computer science.

   But I guess you don't really care about that...

>I believe that TeachScheme is a better vehicle but I wish you luck. 
>-- Matthias

It's not really an either/or proposition in my book.  In any case, 
I'm interested in designing for interoperability.


[1] http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/python/2000/10/04/pythonnews.html