[Edu-sig] Dynamic Worksheets (scrolling, embedded animations & testing -- credit-accruing)

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Mon Dec 19 23:50:50 CET 2005

On 12/17/05, kirby urner <kirby.urner at gmail.com> wrote:
> These "Prosperos Books" (some from O'Reilly?), could be used in a
> community college setting, sometimes in testing situations i.e. under
> controlled conditions that measure student performance in some
> pre-agreed-upon way.

For example, under the heading of "useless Python" we have:

>>> N=100
>>> sum([i+j for i,j in zip(range(1,N+1), range(N,0,-1))])/2

OK, lots of fun syntax, but deployed in a surreal fashion i.e. no one would
want to really write a function that way right?

Surreal is a key word here.  I think we've learned from the Head First
experiments, among others, that humans crave bandwidth.  One reason kids
tune out, get bored, and therefore perform poorly, appear stupid, fall
behind, is they're busy day dreaming.  Anything to compensate for the tedium
of low bandwidth classroom pedagogy.  There's a reason we call it "pedantic"
(the pace of foot soldiers -- trudge trudge trudge).

What I'd like to provide is high bandwidth, over-the-wire learning
experiences, preferably on big plasma, with sensurround sound, that fully
leverage our capacity for imagination.  Purists will whine about all the
"irrelevant noise" stuffed into our pipelines, but perhaps they're just not
attuned to all the cultural allusions, sidebar tributes, cameo appearances.

Like, the above Python fragment ain't so useless in a dynamic worksheet
context, wherein we have an embedded movie re-enactment of Baby Gauss,
chewing on 1+2+3... 100 i.e. the 100th triangular number, and deriving 101 +
101 + ... 101 (100 times), with thought balloons showing "as if" he were
thinking in Python (two ranges, one reversed, zipped to pairs, then
pairwise, then globally summed -- then divide by two to elimate the

And for the Nth triangular number:

>>> def tri(n):
    return sum([i+j for i,j in zip(range(1,n+1), range(n,0,-1))])/2

>>> tri(9000)

Which is of course completely ridiculous as we've already shown we don't
need the memory-intensive range bit:

>>> (9001*9000)//2

>>> def tri(n):  return n*(n+1)//2

Triangular number:  the number of one-on-one handshakes or dialogs betwixt N
participants, this time using N(N-1)//2 i.e. every "me" (N of us) times
"everyone who ain't me" (N-1 others) divided by 2 (because one handshake
works both ways as a greeting).  Dynamic workbook:  phones ringing,
fragments of dialog.

Consecutive triangles pile as tetrahedra, leading to more animations and
more fill-in-the-blanks (using tri, already defined, define the Python
function tetra).

You could have real human teachers, even in real time, doing some of the
teleprompting.  A dynamic book doesn't presuppose everything's canned.
There's room for dynamism even of a noncomputable sort, given the human

I think that early Python Love Story out of Yorktown HS is prototypical:
real human actors engaged in role playing, interspliced with dryer fare.

With millions of kids growing up on Hogwarts etc., the demand for something
a bit more engaging than Everyday Math ("Jimmy buys six eggs at .39 apiece,
if he breaks two coming home...").  We're doing our kids a disservice if we
plan around these dry-as-bones text books as our only mode of delivery.

I'm not against text books per se.  I *am* against text books as the only

I think the publishers with compassion will pioneer the newer options.  From
what I've learned at OSCONs, we have every reason to expect more from XUL

There's this instinct to force junior to buckle down and learn hard stuff
the hard way, i.e. it can't be serious if it's not dry-as-bones, anything
glitzy is pandering/spoiling.  I question that instinct, distrust it.  It
smacks too much of "we never had that much fun as kids, why should you?"

We're not just teaching "mathematics" or "Python" or "programming" in a
narrow sense.  We're showing off what multimedia might do for us,
encouraging students to emulate and then improve upon the workbooks
themselves.   We're teaching art, not just science, and maybe in that order
for a welcome change.

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