[Edu-sig] python teacher = mathematics teacher (namespace)

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Mon Jan 12 17:33:14 CET 2009

I get emails from math teachers in training sometimes, wanted to run
by an excerpt of a recent reply.

The math guy writing me says:


My name is ____________, I'm currently training to be a maths teacher
in the UK. I have a degree in maths and program as a hobby.

For my PGCE I'm required to write a masters level assignment and I've
decided I want to research into how python can be used to teach
mathematics to 11-16 year old children. I'm very much impressed with
your existing work and will be studying it closely. I was wondering,
however, if you would be able to point me in the direction of other
work done in the field (if there is any), since I have only been able
to find work by yourself.


Some of what I wrote back was:

-----Original Message-----
From: Kirby Urner [mailto:urnerk at qwest.net]
Sent: Sunday, January 11, 2009 12:28 PM
To: [ math guy ]
Subject: RE: Python and Mathematics research

There's something of a nomenclature issue in that I'd say anyone
teaching Python is teaching mathematics, as executable notations are
what Leibniz had in mind, and Ada Byron was thinking Bernoulli numbers
etc., i.e. from the beginning, a programmable computer has been the
"piano forte" of mathematics, going through many iterations to where
now you don't have to be big industry to employ professional math
people, various types of computer scientist, to operate them.

I would look to Kenneth Iverson for strong articulations of this
viewpoint, and Roger Hui's work in the J language for how math
teaching (of traditional topics) is accomplished through that
language, as Python's emergence in this field somewhat along the same

If you go back to the start of the Edu-Sig archives, where I do most
of this work, you'll find Tim Peters and Arthur Siegal using a
math-through-programming approach.  Tim cites 'Concrete Mathematics',
Knuth a co-author, and similar to 'The Book of Numbers' in some ways
(what Iverson-Hui take on).  Siegal is doing projective geometry with
Pygeo, which I think you'll still find, c/o his estate.

I work with Ian Benson, a top curriculum writer in the UK, who is very
connected in the Python community.

Although Python itself is open source, a lot of private sector
business do curriculum writing for profit, so some of these efforts
aren't going to feature in academic papers.


I gave a talk to London Knowledge Lab on how I do Python, which you
may be interested in, also my Chicago talk at Pycon last year drew
large crowds, expecting even more this year, plus I have 3 hours this
time [ and blah blah ]




So the way I'm thinking of it, we're all math teachers if we teach
Python, a live (executable) math notation (MN) for implementing
logic-numeric solutions to problems.  We've been trained, especially
in the Anglophone tradition, to maintain all these sharp turf lines,
such that we might be computer scientists in some way, but even there,
we're supposed to respect these various record locking schemes based
on degrees and such claptrap.  Mathematics is something removed from
our purview and relegated to some elite that maybe only uses paper and
pencil (or so "they" like to pretend -- many use Mathematica or
MathCad most of the time i.e. live MNs, just as we do).

Now that the concept of "namespace" has reached some maturity, I think
it's easy to explain that namespaces differ in how they use key words
(like "maths") and equating describing Python teaching or programming
in general as mathematics is maybe not university-speak, but
consistency in design is what we're looking for, not necessarily the
approval of Oxbridge dons or whatever gowned authorities.

So, on with the math teaching!


PS:  some of you may have wondered about my "Cockfight!" allusion,
saying one of my computers was set aside for that purpose.  It's just
a concept.  I'm not able to write a game as sophisticated as Spore
coming from a tiny office with only a few partners, most of whom have
other day jobs as well.  I clarify this humble truth in my blog this
morning, with a link back to this list.


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