[Edu-sig] help and suggestions

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Tue Oct 6 08:08:56 CEST 2009

On Mon, Oct 5, 2009 at 11:24 AM, roberto <roberto03 at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hello, this post is a request of a mix of:
> your help (one half)
> your scientific experience (one half)
> i plan to ground my math teaching experience on an inquiry based
> approach to learning (i think you know definitely better than me what
> it is).
> My first inspiration on this topic came the way back in 1994, when i
> was a high school student and i came accross to Polya approach to math
> education.
> (This is the request for your experience)
> Is there anyone there who is using it in his/her classroom ?
> Also, i want to support this way of working with extensive programming
> activities, mainly based on python and python-grounded tools.

My experience has been to teach a blend of mathematics and Python.
However, I also weave in a lot of storytelling including by showing
excerpts from DVDs, such as 'Revolution OS', and projecting YouTubes.

When talking about Python culture, I immediately mention PEPs and the
recent leap from 2.x to 3.x. However I make sure to cover more general
topics such as GNU/Linux, gcc, emacs vs. vi (as a religious war), FOSS
vs. SCO, other geek lore.

This design pattern deviates from standard mathematics which is
resolutely ahistorical except in the sidebars i.e. textbooks
customarily pack little human interest stories around the edges, but
students are rarely responsible for any of this material on tests
(that would be considered history after all, not math).

How I managed to get away with this radical departure is we have an elite
academy with Silicon Forest backing and a soft spot for software development.

We also talk a lot about infrastructure such as TCP/IP and the
different protocols that make up the Internet, such as NNTP, FTP,
SMTP, HTTP etc.  What are RFPs?  What are the various standards bodies
(WWW etc.)?  What is Unicode?

> (This is the request for help)
> Now, the point is that tons of materials do exist and i do not know
> how to choose the most reliable and scientifically supported.
> Is there anyone who can point me to documents, guidelines or whatever
> resource which implement this way of teaching/learning math ?

My recommendation is teachers should have a free hand in experimenting
with different solutions and sharing their success stories, as well as
their failures, other war stories, on-line.

This was the approach we developed in theory during a meeting with
Guido, Alan Kay, Mark Shuttleworth, Helen King and other luminaries,
education experts etc.

I'm pretty sure any group of smart people would have arrived at
something similar as it's simply the open source process applied to
curriculum writing, making use of our new global telecommunications

What's important in developing teacher effectiveness is that we each
develop mastery over a suite of tools of pedagogical value and
relevance to students.

Knowledge of Python is one example, of VPython a more specific example
i.e. once you get into Python you have diverse set of libraries and
3rd party modules.  There's turtle stuff, Crunchy Frog, the Litvins
text, PyGame lit (Sandes)... really, there's a wealth of resources
already out there.

But as a teacher, you're under no obligation to be stellar or even
proficient with every tool.  The constructivist approach encourages
students to explore into areas beyond the teacher's comfort zone or
time constraints (life is short -- that's a constraint).

There's no sense of "threatened authority" when students do lightning
talks on topics or tools the teacher has not had much opportunity to

Encourage students to explore in pairs or small teams.  Don't forget
Pygeo as a possible resource.

Go turtles!  Go fractals!  PIL is cool.  I've used POV-Ray a lot, plan
to keep doing that (along with VPython of course).  But that's just
me, YMMV (your mileage may vary).


> I thank you very much, again.
> --
> roberto
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