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

Kirby Urner urnerk at qwest.net
Wed Dec 17 17:40:23 EST 2003

Guido (abbrev):
> > I know I'm taking this out of context, but I think you're wrong about
> > the 12 year olds. 
Michael (abbrev):
> That is certainly true for some teenagers today, but those aren't the ones
> that are avoiding math and science classes. 

Good thread -- we need more along these lines.

Although Guido is right about a few kids, we should be aware of the vast
numbers of "script kiddies" who get access to harass-ware that's pretty
user-friendly on the face of it, but a black box (to them).  

Trojan horses, embedded in always-online Windows boxes world wide, able to
respond to commands and all launch a DNS attack on the same target, may be
sent forth and rallied from a GUI by a script kiddie with practically zippo
real knowledge of the underlying mechanics.

A perverse brand of techno-savvy adult likes to supply the kiddos with
weaponry of this high caliber.

This guy who sells ZoneAlarm had a fascinating piece on his interactions
with a script kiddie who launched a DNS against him, primarily because he
was offended by being called a script kiddie (which is what he was).  Let's
see if I can find the URL:  [didn't find it, but found lots of related

With regard to "those in the middle" teens, who'd tune in more math were it
less abstract and relevant, I think more programming could be the key.  In
fact, with programming, you can take abstractions and make them seem
concrete simply because you're coding them.

For example, it's considered college level to consider Zn, a group of
numbers added and multiplied modulo N.  But with operator overloading, it's
a concrete exercise to have a * b return (a*b) % n.  Then you can examine
group and field properties.  Abstract algebra made easy with Python.

And although the decimals have not yet arrived (at least not in the Standard
Library), we *do* have this ability to invoke giant integers without fuzzing
over to floating points.  This meets student expectations, and opens a wide
area of exploration.  That's something to celebrate.

Likewise, with operator overloading, we can construct rational numbers and
polynomials as entities with field and ring properties respectively.  That's
high level math, but the fact that we can program around it makes it
relatively concrete and accessible to a middle-of-the-road teen -- is what I
would argue.

"Math through programming" has a bright future, but is slow in coming.  I
think the open source community is well poised to start the revolution,
given the global reach of cybergoods.


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