[Edu-sig] Python and pre-algebra

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Fri Jul 1 07:41:45 CEST 2011

On Thu, Jun 30, 2011 at 8:03 PM, <mokurai at earthtreasury.org> wrote:
> On Wed, June 29, 2011 7:15 pm, mary.dooms at comcast.net wrote:
> >
> > I teach 6th grade math and Python was suggested as a way to apply
> > pre-algebra concepts in a programming context. My programming background
> > consists of one C++ programming class. How do I begin?
> Python is one of several excellent options. Others are Logo, Smalltalk,
> and APL, all of which are available at no cost. I worked on a free APL for
> 8-bit computers before the Free Software movement got started, and I have
> friends working on APLs for current computers to put under the GPL.

APL was my first love at Princeton, back when most people (including
me) had to use punch cards.  It was the interactivity I loved, among
other aspects.  Logo the same way.  Grew into dBase later, always
interactive, a dialog.  Languages divide into those which respond,
conversationally, and those which must be looked at as non-conversational.
Python joined the ranks of the conversationals.

> Assuming that your students know no Python, you could use the Sugar Labs
> Turtle Art approach to math and programming to get started. Turtle Art was
> designed for children to use for math, programming, and art, and has
> natural ways to move to Logo, Python, or Etoys/Smalltalk. FORTH, too, but
> most people don't want to know that. ^_^ (FORTH love if honk then)

I was a math teacher in a day school for humans of the female
persuasion, as one of the trusted male faculty (most were not male),
but this was long before the Free Software movement (GNU / GPL),
was still at the start of the first computer revolution.  No Internet
yet, at least not for ordinary civilians like me.

I dreamed of hypertext (read Computer Lib / Dream Machines
by Ted Nelson) and joined IGC with a guest account at New
Jersey Institute of Technology.  Proto-internet, pre-listserv.  In
the meantime, snailmailers were proto-typing listservs via
Action Linkage.  Anyone remember?  You'd mail your post to
the anchor, who'd photocopy the lot and mail back out to
subscribers.  The whole listserv phenomenon, happening
through snailmail.  Lots of ethnography as yet unwritten.

Mid 1980s.

'A Network Nation' by Turoff and Starr Roxanne Hiltz.

I lived behind Loew's Theater on Journal Square, the main
PATH station in Jersey City.  By 1985, I was back in Portland,
having been raised there through 2nd grade.

> The question is, which pre-algebra concepts? Do you have a curriculum
> standard or a particular textbook in mind? Are there other topics of
> interest?
> I can write TA or mixed TA/Python examples, and show students how to do
> the same, and we could work together on lesson plans to share in the Sugar
> Labs Replacing Textbooks program. There are others with an interest in
> doing this.

Then I worked at McGraw-Hill (after some stuff in between), 28th floor,
Rockefeller Center, Manhattan, editing textbooks, testing educational
computer games, contributing curriculum writing (Logo, BASIC).

Back then, we thought computers were soon to take the math teaching
world by storm.  Little did we suspect that the North Americans would be
conquered by Texas Instruments, leaving the innovation vista to
other cultures and/or subversive counter-cultures still operational
in some areas.

OLPC (One Laptop per Child) was one attempt to break the TI lock
on teacher imaginations.  For the most part, it failed in North America.
The resistance was too great.  No breakfast cereal boxes featured
the XO.  Nothing on the backs of Kellogs or General Mills.  No
donated G1G1 commercials during Saturday Morning cartoons.

Few ever got a clue.  Teachers fell further and further behind.

The situation was so bad in Hillsboro (personal anecdote), home
of Intel in Oregon (Aloha plant) that the police got into the home
schooling business, tried to do outreach to tomorrow's gangland
by setting up a Linux Lab in West Precinct (where I came in, as
a contract instructor).

The schools had proved incompetent to do their jobs (educating
for the future), so the Chief of Police was stepping in (he was
2nd generation Chinese immigrant).

I lectured about this Hillsboro experiment to the London Knowledge
Lab on my way to the Shuttleworth Foundation meeting with
Helen King et al, our benevolent dictator, Guido, another member
of our merry party (Scheme also represented).

This was a meeting about South Africa, making long term plans even
then (government officials were part of Mark's entourage).

> > Are lesson plans and small programs available, for example,
> Probably. There are well over 100,000 digital learning resources on the
> Net. You can find some of them on pages linked from
> http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Open_Education_Resources
> We will need a substantial number of teachers to review them, compare
> them, and select those that do the best job making concepts clear in ways
> that will stay with students.

The South African model was shaping up to serve auto-didacts.

Kids who could self teach would stand the best chance.

The teachers were proving hopeless.  Adult teachers could not be
expected adapt to these technologies in sufficient time in sufficient
number.  Those were the facts on the ground.

It's not like anyone wanted it to be this way.  One had to make the
best of a bad situation.

> > where students could write and
> > "drop in" a script that includes integers and the output would not only
> > calculate it, but see the relevance of it in a real world situation?
> There are many ways to do that. One of the weirder ones is my Turtle Art
> Turing Machine for addition. ^_^
> http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Activities/TurtleArt/Tutorials/Turtle_Art_Turing_Machine
> More directly to your needs, Pippy is a Sugar activity that shows a number
> of Python examples that students can edit. For example,
> Fibonacci
> a, b = 0, 1
> while b< 1001:
>     print b,
>     a, b = b, a+b
> Changing the 0, 1 in the first line changes this from a generator of
> Fibonacci numbers to a generator of the related Lucas numbers. There is a
> Pascal's Triangle program. Plotted mod 2, it reveals a Sierpinski fractal.

"Generator" also has a technical meaning in Python, such that one
might actually write a Fibonacci generator (of the GeneratorType).

> Relevant Python resources include NumPy and PyGame.
> > Or, perhaps, the program controls a "wheelchair" robot and students would
> > write scripts to drive the robot at a certain speed considering the slope
> > of a ramp?
>  See the Etoys tutorial challenge for programming a "car", and the robot
> program in Uruguay with robots controlled by Sugar software.

Alan Kay was at that Shuttleworth meeting in Kensington.  I'm sure
there've been many follow-up meetings which I've not been privy to, plus
I've continued to meet with Oregon-based colleagues.

I also work with an outfit in Sonoma County, where Python is concerned.

> http://www.flickr.com/photos/christophd/4827926508/
> XO turned into a robot thanks to the Butiá project
> > As you can see, I am a novice, but I see great potential and am willing to
> > learn.
> Delighted to meet you.

Ed writes a lot of good posts on many a math-related list.  I recommend paying
attention to his thinking (I know I do).


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