[Edu-sig] Python and pre-algebra

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Fri Jul 1 20:06:59 CEST 2011

@David:  thanks for the autobio, starting in Hillsboro where I was talking
about the police jumping into Linux to improve their relations with youth
culture.  It was an experiment.

Saturday Academy was where the police turned for instructors, which
I where I came into that story, via George Heuston (formerly FBI and

Last year I taught Martian Math for Saturday Academy.  This summer
it's about math as a globally social activity or something like that.  I'm
inspired by Maria Droujkova's work on math as a social networking tool.

We'll practice doing show & tell is my plan (aka Lightning Talks in Python

On Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 6:43 AM,  <mary.dooms at comcast.net> wrote:
> Thank you to everyone who has responded to my inquiry. I truly appreciate
> your willingness to help.

Gary Litvin just chimed in.  He's got an upper level math textbook written
around Python.

> Our math curriculum addresses the Illinois state standards, however within
> the next 3 years we will be moving to the Common Core.
> A breakdown of the curriculum is below:
> Advanced math (1 section) supported by McDougal-Littel Course 2 textbook
> http://www.classzone.com/cz/books/msmath_2_na/book_home.htm?state=IL
> Integers (order of operations)
> Fractions/Decimals/Percents

One successful format is for a classroom to have a projector and an Internet
connection.  Better if the classroom may darken some.  That's already a
big problem in many settings, as many school rooms are designed to have
as much light flooding in as possible at all times.

The teacher is the anchor and guide and does quite a bit of role modeling
and presenting, but the students also take turns, speaking to the entire
group, sharing content.  This is akin to inviting a student to the front of
the room to use a chalk board.

With a Python interpreter window showing, the teacher can engage in
conversation, show this as a kind of "chat window" where the interpreter
"talks back".  Turning to this window from time to time, not exclusively
nor excessively, and interleaved with time in other exhibits, with other
languages, would be my idea of a productive math class, with students
piloting alongside the teacher, time sharing the projected content.

Of course one need not project all the time, just saying that's a
configuration I look for (and had at the police station).

Then of course one wishes each student had a computer too.  That's
not a requirement though.  I think it should be required that students
get to co-pilot the shared / projected classroom computer.  I like
to see teachers sharing the floor, not hogging the limelight.  But this
isn't a hardware / tool issue, it's a formatting issue.

The ideal at Saturday Academy and of One Laptop Per Child is a
sense of having one's own computer, no need to share.  That's a
useful mode to be in, productive sometimes, but if there's only one
computer, then projecting it may be the solution.  Then more of a
round robin format.  I use this with adults as well.  I like the public
speaking angle.  Math gets too isolating and solipsistic, to the
detriment of everyone involved.

> Algebra (1 and 2 step equations, simplifying, distributive property,
> inequalities)
> Geometry (polygons, angles, surface area, volume)

A weakness in contemporary geometry is this belief that it's best to start
in the abstract / ethereal realm of the infinite this and the dimensionless

Anti-experiential.  Wow 'em with less than self evident axioms and
definitions and pretend that's elite and superior (a kind of snobism).

Regular old objects of everyday space are more polyhedrons than
polygons.  The Earth is an oblate sphere.

Keeping geodesy in the picture, ala Google Earth, Google Mars etc.,

... so easy to pull ahead of the rank and file.  One needs to be free
of district strictures though, straitjacketing "standards".  At Saturday
Academy, we are not bound and gagged the way they do in some
other schools I won't name in this post.

> Ratios and Proportions
> Probability
> Standard Math (3 sections) Supported by McDougal-Littel Course 1 textbook
> http://www.classzone.com/cz/books/msmath_1_na/book_home.htm?state=IL
> Problem Solving Strategies
> Fraction operations
> Decimal operations
> Geometry

Maybe get some polyhedrons in here.

I was just visiting with Father Magnus Wenninger in Minnesota.
He's one of the premier polyhedronists.

I met a young guy recently (he was waiting our table) who
saw the polyhedrons we had (lunch meeting) and correctly
named them.  I was amazed and asked him which school
system he'd attended.  Minneapolis Public Schools.

> Number Sense (Prime factorization, GCF, LCM, Divisibility Rules)
> Our district is generally supportive to adding new software to the school
> computers, however requests are only honored during school breaks (winter,
> spring, summer) as they want to keep the computers available for student use
> and MAPS testing. (http://www.nwea.org/)  :-(

Typically, they'll teach GCF using prime factorizations and bleep
over Euclid's Algorithm.  That's a fork in the road.  What I call
"digital math" includes Euclid's.  Here's Guido's version:

def gcf(a, b):
    while b:
        a, b = b, a % b  # modulo arithmetic
    return a

Milo on mathfuture thinks number theory was expunged from
Lower48 curricula during the anti-German backlash of
Woodrow Wilson and WW1.  Planar Euclidean geometry
became the new pavement.  More like the Russian curriculum
in some ways.  We could use a lot more ethnography of math
education.  Many full time anthropologists should be tasked
to this important work, observing and reporting.

One thing you can exhibit using the Python window (one of many)
is this idea of types.  We all know that objects (like dogs and shoes)
come in types.  "What type of thing is that?"  So then in Python we
have this "type" function that spits back the type of a thing.

>>> type(1)
<class 'int'>
>>> type(1.0)
<class 'float'>
>>> import decimal
>>> type(decimal.Decimal('10'))
<class 'decimal.Decimal'>
>>> type({'pig','dog','monkey','bat','snake','hamster'})
<class 'set'>

This is rather generic language, almost like basic English (which
it is, translates to other languages pretty easily).  Weaving together
an "object oriented" patter with everyday ordinary speaking is a
goal of my math classes.  It's a language class.  Nomenclature
matters.  Dot notation: noun.verb( ).  results = thing.action( inputs ).
noun.adjective.  More grammar.

Lights go on when students realize how much computers deal with
alphanumeric data, not just numbers.  There's this stereotype from
the outside that it's all "number crunching" meaning glorified
arithmetic.  It's as much about text, about parsing, about markup.

I like to dive in with some ideas about tcp/ip and shared infrastructure.
To this end, I project 'Warriors of the Net', admittedly pretty basic:

> My plan is to begin with my advanced math students.
> On a side note, I have enjoyed reading the personal stories you have been
> sharing. Mine is that my first job out of college was working for the now
> defunct Teletype Corporation, a part of the now defunct Western Electric, a
> part of the now defunct Bell System, a part of the perhaps soon to be
> defunct AT&T?! I spent ten years in public relations, took time off to raise
> children, then returned to the workforce to teach middle school.
> Again, I appreciate your support, and I look forward to collaborating with
> you.

The Baby Bells are striving to get back together they say.  Sounds
like one of those summer science fiction movies where the alien
Globs are seeking to rejoin and form the Mother Glob.

Anyway, I should get back to the day job (teaching Python as it happens).

Great chatting,


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