[Edu-sig] Retrospective: Our Open Source class including Python

Kirby Urner urnerk at python.org
Fri Jul 16 09:17:46 CEST 2004

So I just finished a chapter in collaboration with Jerritt Collord, a gifted
young man from Nevada with Linuxfund.org, who graciously contributed his
time to the Saturday Academy (whereas I charged a fee -- but Linuxfund
reimbursed him), to work out 'Adventures in Open Source' a first time

Saturday Academy is a nonprofit working with high school aged and younger
students looking for experiences that take them outside the usual classroom
fare, giving them exposure to working engineers, artists, scientists,
musicians or whatever flies (and passes quality control).  I consider it a
privilege to work with this outfit, spearheaded by Joyce et al out of
Portland State University.

A challenge this particular time was Satacad had been working with police in
the Hillsboro area to fulfill the chief of police guy's mission to bridge
the digital divide -- something he's passionate about, and will bend the
rules to do.  To this end, these police had setup a RedHat 9.0 lab right off
the main lobby of their West Precinct.  That was to be the site of our
class.  You could tell even the parents wondered about this venue, as they
left their teenagers (all boys this time) in our care.

Like I said, this was a pilot course, a first time offering, there was lots
to be worked out.  But one thing we all agreed on:  open source begins with
source code being a focus, and the ability to read and write source code,
i.e. to engage with the principle currency of the realm, was important for
entre.  It'd feel too watered down if we didn't get into some serious
programming (not just HTML or something).  And we selected Python for this
job (I was sold on this idea from the beginning, and Jerritt had no problem
with it, although he is a fan of Squeak and Alan Kay's level of commitment
(not implying I'm not an admirer of Squeak -- I am, especially of what it
does in the hands of skilled Squeakers).

The course provided me with a good opportunity to field test a lot of my
ideas about mixing Python with geometry (simple, static stuff to start --
didn't even get VPython to compile in time; these Red Hat 9.0 boxes started
in a fairly primitive state, no gcc even, to compile Python with, and no
CDs; we did it all over the internet (with Jerritt setting that part up,
with help and support from Phil et al of the HBPD)).

Course materials:  we're working on synthesizes our work and have more
literature developed than is currently online.  However, at my web site is a
snapshot with quite a bit of our materials.  Regarding Python, I'd be
especially interested in feedback on my paper under the Background
subdirectory (the PDF).  I wrote it partly in response to Ryan's request for
more theory.  I also just fixed a typo (added a 'd', changed version from
1.1 to 1.2).

The kids were very engaged and learned a lot.  The course was considered a
success and we're planning to offer it again in the fall, although Jerritt
is moving out of town shortly, so the chemistry and configuration will be
different.  This was a really good episode.


Website:  http://www.4dsolutions.net/satacad/

PS:  I also offered to teach a math-through-programming course starting Jan
2005 (some different, some partially overlapping content), still using
Python, but also'd plan to phase in some J.

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