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

Michael McLay mmclay at comcast.net
Wed Dec 17 16:28:52 EST 2003

On Saturday 13 December 2003 07:52 pm, Jeffrey Elkner wrote:
> 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.

I would be very surprised if programming spreadsheets wasn't the largest 
programming activity if we were just counting the number of people who write 
some rudimentary programs. Business people and 12 year olds have about the 
same level of tolerance for learning arcane programming languages. They want 
it to be easy and fast to make something work. It is not surprising that 
decimal numbers are expected for both groups. Why should they need to known 
about binary number representation?

If Python is going to crack the business and educational markets there is one 
simple change that must be made. The lack of a native decimal number type is 
show stopper for using Python in the business community. Add decimal numbers 
and watch the COBOL programmer flock to Python:-)

> >> 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).

I suppose in school the programmable calculator would outnumber the 
spreadsheet users. That reverses in the business world. 


> 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.

Of course if you are talking about doing computational linguistics (or 
whatever the name is for people who do analysis of sentence structure and try 
to understand words in a given context) the math gets reintroduced to the 
data mining activity. Some types of interactive games and developing software 
to support testing of students for the humanities also fit into this non-math 
use of programming. Perhaps you can lure the students into using math by 
using interesting problems with the programming language to introduce where 
using math can make life easier.

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