[Edu-sig] more on digital math...

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Sat Aug 8 23:14:45 CEST 2009

Here's a blog post about the meeting below.  Our venue was Sherwood
High School, some 15 miles or so south of the Portland city limits.


I don't mention Python much in the post, but that's a language many
assumed we'd be using, although our facilitator might be more of a
Ruby guy (definitely a CTO and programmer).

Speaking of which, Chris shared his sense that the pendulum is
swinging *away from* a kind of snobbishness about programming, where
you'd think "coding" was the more menial role, the high powered being
"system architects" and so on who don't every write in a computer

He thinks that's going away.

I'm thinking that might have something to do with TDD, i.e. this idea
of specifying everything in UML and flow charts, getting buy off from
the customer, and then writing a turn key system based on this spec,
is "old skool" and considered "not working" by today's standards.

Today's workflow is more like what R0ml proposes:  getting working
code out in front and continually reworking, working with the customer
in a free and open process.

We still have milestones though i.e. "feature freeze on the GUI by
September" would be a goal, even if that slips a little.

People agree its uncool to wait until the last possible minute to
request modifications.  I think the movie-making industry probably has
lots of valuable analogies, which we'll tap into, as geeks break into
television more successfully.

Two Python specific feedbacks from that meeting:

A.  Another Title

One of the teachers is using this book, which was assigned to him (he
didn't choose it):

Python Programming in Context by Miller and Ranum:

He noted that "commenting" or "how to comment" is not in the index and
that the code itself contains no examples of commenting.  That may be
to "save paper" but, if so, is just another example of how committing
computer science books to paper is close to oxymoronic.  We should be
using Crunchy, wikis, blogs, PDFs, media you might update.

There's a lot of turtle stuff in the above title, but I'm not sure to
what extent, if any, it works of Gregor's version.

The Litvins pythonic math book, though available in hard copy, is on a
"just in time" printing system e.g. it's about exhausted from Amazon
already, so they'll order up a few more, restock, and so on.  At least
you don't get a huge back log needing to be remaindered, because of
errors or because they're all in Python 2.6.  The 3.x version of the
Litvins text is currently in progress.

B.  Is IDLE Supported?

Another piece of feedback came from this PSU professor who really
likes the language but found IDLE to be almost a show stopper on her
Mac, as it'd crash and then not reboot because of some "socket error".

I mentioned killing zombie snakes in the task manager on Windows but
she assured me this wasn't the problem, plus her students reported the
same thing.  Her impression was IDLE is not supported and that there's
no one to turn to when your IDLE is crashing.  I said I'd look into
this for her.  I've not had this specific problem, though I do need to
kill zombie snakes on occasion.

Most of these high schools run Windows on cannibalized repurposed
machines.  A case with a valid Windows license on the box is what they
look for, to give them license to have a running Windows inside.  I
didn't say anything about switching to Ubuntu in this context as I
think vendors offering school-wide solutions need to do their own
vending around that.

Some of the teachers were actually surprised to learn Python was free.
 They're used to thinking in terms of expensive corporate apps like
Office, which they get at bargain basement prices because they're
schools.  This keeps them feeling grateful whereas there is built-in
distrust, suspicion, and/or ignorance about any software that's
legally free and re-copyable at will, even on the Windows platform.
Python would be a "foot in the door" for FOSS in that sense (might be

As Lindsey puts it, corporate America doesn't like FOSS because the
CEO of company A wants to be able to pick up the phone and shout
expletives and a CEO of company B, about how you'd better fix the
fucking piece of shit right now or we'll see you in court.  That's not
geek culture really, where prima donna rule, work on stuff when they
feel like it, don't think anyone should tell them what to work on
next.  These are of course stereotypes, but with enough truth in 'em
to be worth representing.

Anyway, just some initial comments based on our planning session.  I'm
sure I'll have more to say as we continue collaborating (this was just
the opening salvo).


On Mon, Aug 3, 2009 at 3:27 PM, kirby urner<kirby.urner at gmail.com> wrote:

> Here's the agenda for that meeting FYI:
> Goal: Identify steps to develop and establish a pilot digital math
> curriculum for 2010 deployment
> 08:30 - 09:00 - Arrival and continental breakfast
> 09:00 - 09:15 - Welcome and Introductions
> 09:15 - 09:30 - Review and discussion of workshop objectives
> 09:15 - 10:15 - Current state of Oregon discrete mathematics standards
> (Bruce Schafer)
> 10:15 - 10:45 - Insights and discussion from current discrete math /
> CS HS teachers (Greg Ptaszynski, Don Kirkwood)
> 10:45 - 11:00 - Break
> 11:00 - 12:15 - Digital Math module presentation and discussion, e.g.
> CS Unplugged (Chris Brooks, Rob Bryant)
> 12:15 - 1:00 - Lunch
> 1:00 - 2:30 - Brainstorming and open discussion about CS / digital
> math module integration into discrete math offeirng
> 2:30 - 3:00 - Identify next actions and owners
> 3:00 - 3:15 - Final wrap-up
> I'm going from Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy
> (ISEPP), same think tank I represented at Pycon this year, delivered
> that workshop with Holden. Pictures of my nametag, Blip TV from my
> talk, all in circulation for some months now, in case any of these
> guys challenge me for bona fides, plus I was IEEE Dymaxion Clown on
> election night (Obama wins).
> Be that as at may, Lindsey and I plan not to do any formal
> presentations, not our turn to show off (I'll likely talk about Python
> some, remind 'em of the many VM options -- probably experiment with
> all of them depending on the lesson, e.g. I've showcased using JFC for
> biginteger features in Jython, useful for segments on RSA (the
> algorithm, not the African nation -- good example of namespace
> collision, dot notation to the rescue!)). The Litvins text is likely
> to get some focus as well.
> Deployment of our 2010 curriculum in an O'Reilly Safari like context
> (or Safari itself) would be one of our ISEPP threads  i.e. we're not
> interested in promoting "reams of paper" style publishing or
> gratuitous "tree mowing" -- too oxymoronic, to have this futuristic
> curriculum and yet cling to obsolete (not to mention unethical)
> content delivery methods.  Students wouldn't take us at all seriously.
>  Note that we're not talking "all Portland schools", though that would
> be optimal (to have a DM track offering in every high school).
> Kirby

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