[Edu-sig] re: Python Programming: An Introduction to ComputerScience

Jeffrey Elkner jeff at elkner.net
Sat Dec 13 19:52:06 EST 2003

On Sat, 2003-12-13 at 18:21, Laura Creighton wrote:
> In a message of Sat, 13 Dec 2003 13:09:10 PST, "Kirby Urner" writes:
>> I guess my question is, what's being used outside the "hard core geek
>> community" that CS1 doesn't reach?  VB?  Or is it just that programming
>> itself is still not a very widespread activity, using any language?
> I think the second.

VB is used by the Business department, which has more students than CS
at our school (and in the world at large, too).  It is true that most
students still are not exposed to programming at all, but I see more
students coming to me with some exposure to programming already than I
did 10 years ago.

>> In my view, we need more programming in the mathematics curriculum, which
>> means recognizing that writing programs is likewise a way of writing
>> mathematics. Or, more accurately, I'd say both kinds of writing are similar
>> kinds of symbolic activity which deserve a prime spot in K-12 education.
>> In the math curriculum, the real competition is not some other language, 
>> but calculators (I guess the TI programming language might count -- but my
>> impression is more HS math teachers than students actually bother with the
>> programming part).
>> Numeracy, the equivalent of literacy with regard to prose and poetry,
>> involves programming, mathematics, data visualizations, puzzle solving,
>> logic, simulations, and other such.  Numeracy and literacy connect at many
>> levels.
>> Kirby
> I think that a problem we have is that programming is seen to be tied to
> math, and numeracy, (as is problem solving in general) rather that
> literacy, and the arts and humanities in general.  I think that we
> could make a tremendous push for the number of people who are programming
> at all if we made courses on 'data mining for the humanities' and the
> like.  How to write programs to take the information from some website
> and do something useful with it.  The problem I see when teaching 
> non-technical people how to program, is how little their expectation
> of 'what programming would be good for' has to do with the sort of
> problems that they have in their lives.  But I have a small following
> of 'grandmothers who have taught themselves some python'.  They needed
> a computer program to take a list of their friends and then make
> mime attatchments of the digital pictures they had made of their
> grandchildren, and mail them to everybody on their mailing list
> without having to mouse click and do things by hand, which takes hours.
> But not too many non-nerds know that programming is good for repetative
> tasks like this.  
> Laura

I don't think there is a necessary contradiction between these two
statements.  I can say with confidence that most of the students (and
teachers, for that matter) at my school fear/hate mathematics, so if we
give students the idea that computer programming is inherently a
mathematics like activity than we won't reach many students with it.

But Kirby is talking about using programming in the mathematics
classroom, where it could serve to make mathematics instruction more
real and more comprehensible for the students who are there.  I think
that is a great idea.

That is not at all to say that programming should in be limited to
mathematics, or that it should even be primarily there.  I like what
Laura says about data mining on the web.  The web can be an empowering
and democratic tools for folks if they learn how to use it, and some
basic programming skills would be a big help with that.  I'm also
finding that basic web scripting is an important tool for students
wanting to make dynamic web sites (and lots of students want to make web
sites).  I've been using PHP for that mostly, but the students in my
classes who are doing this kind of thing benefitted greatly from their
exposure to Python.

Jeffrey Elkner <jeff at elkner.net>
Open Book Project <http://ibiblio.org/obp>

More information about the Edu-sig mailing list