[Edu-sig] Considering Python for an algebra course

David MacQuigg macquigg at ece.arizona.edu
Tue Apr 14 19:49:25 CEST 2009

At 07:30 AM 4/14/2009 -0400, Maria Droujkova wrote:

>I am new to this list. I am working on an algebra course where teens will create their own learning materials and share them as open educational resources (OERs).

You and your students are welcome to participate in PyWhip (http://pywhip.appspot.com/), work problems submitted by their teacher, and submit their own problems that might be interesting to other students.  The site is not yet finished, but to get an idea of where we are headed, take a look at JavaBat.com.  We are planning on doing everything JavaBat does, but doing it for Python, plus adding the ability for teachers to pick and choose which problems sets are included in a custom setup for their own students.

>I'd like to organize the course around a computer environment. I have three candidates for it so far: Scratch, Geogebra and Python. I like these three because they all have robust communities of people sharing open source code.
>Scratch has the immediate multimedia appeal, is equally loved by boys and girls, and is very easy to get into. Minus: it's rather limited when it comes to a bit more advanced math. We tried to create fractals on it this Spring in a homeschool coop, and it was cumbersome.

Probably slow as well.  Python has the advantage that you can write exactly what you want in clear, readable, and teachable code, then if it is too slow, drop in a function written in C.  I did that with a lecture on Mandelbrot fractals and got a 200X acceleration in computing an image.  See the ECE175 notes at http://ece.arizona.edu/~edatools/index_classes.htm

>Geogebra was created specifically for the type of projects I want to run. It is easy enough to start, for kids. I find its specialization to be a limiting factor, though - it would be nice if kids saw the environment's potential beyond math.

They will never outgrow Python.

>With Python, I have more questions than answers, because I am just starting to learn it. Do you think it will work for my purpose?

Even with Python, there is a little bit of overhead in getting it set up, teaching kids to do a few simple things, deal with problems like killing pythonw.exe zombies on Windows, etc.  It sounds like you are planning more than just a one-hour demo, so yes, the benefit is worth the effort.

>Do I need to get a real programmer involved, or can I learn enough Python in a few months to help kids well enough, without being a specialist?

Depends on your own background in programming, and whether you need to do anything unusual like accelerate a program with a function in C.  My guess is the average math or science teacher will have no difficulty learning the basics of Python in a few weeks, and will get all the help they need from participants on this list.  The tutorials at http://docs.python.org/3.0/tutorial/index.html and http://wiki.python.org/moin/BeginnersGuide are excellent, and the tutorials (help files) on PyWhip will be even better for teaching specific topics like logic, strings, etc.

************************************************************     *
* David MacQuigg, PhD    email: macquigg at ece.arizona.edu   *  *
* Research Associate                phone: USA 520-721-4583   *  *  *
* ECE Department, University of Arizona                       *  *  *
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* http://purl.net/macquigg        Tucson, Arizona 85710          *
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