Python in "math through programming" curriculum

Kirby Urner urner at alumni.princeton.edu
Wed Dec 20 19:36:27 CET 2000


Cliff --

It's fine to have a difference of opinion regarding what
computer languages to use for what purposes e.g. w/ 
regard to 8th grade math learning.  I have no experience
with the languages you mention (except some with 
Mathematica) and am quite willing to accept that 
brilliant and appropriate curriculum writing for 
K-12ers might incorporate them -- I just haven't seen
a lot of that yet and was wondering if you'd done any
yourself.

The only point of my earlier question was to inquire as
to how much personal experience you have with the 
languages you mention (I know you've used Mathematica
and Ada), and to encourage you to share from personal
experience, as that's what tends to be more valuable.
Anyone can read web pages hyping this or that language,
but only through actual use and experimentation to we
put ourselves in a position to form personal judgements.

I am quite happy to attach weight to your opinions IF 
you have some hands-on experience to share.  Just saying
that these languages are worth considering because 
they're free (vs. Mathematica) isn't sufficient data 
on which to base judgements IMO.  Relative cost is 
just one of a great many criteria we need to consider,
and not necessarily the most important one.  QBASIC is
free on most DOS machines yet I wouldn't recommend it
as a first language in this day and age.

I agreed with you that the Mac implementation of IDLE
might be rather disappointing, have asked for more 
feedback on whether it really lacks color coding of 
keywords.  The high school I'm aware of which so far
does the most with Python (Yorktown High in Arlington
VA) is Linux-based.  I'm wondering if Macworld, which
is what many schools have invested in, is going to 
end up being somewhat incompatible with Pythonworld,
at least at the K-12 level. I don't actually know enough
to have an answer to that question, which is why I'm 
asking it.

I don't think you should fly off the handle just 
because I prodded you to share from personal experience
about the claims you're making for this or that 
computer language over Python.  I think to discuss
this issue intelligently, you should have more to 
say than a few negative words about using it on a
Mac, without any specificity.  Now you're echoing my
own critique re the IDLE interface, but I'm the one 
who brought that up, from my own personal experience
installing it at my daughter's school after downloading
it over the internet.  Did you have the same complaint?
Did you know that IDLE had color-coded key words on 
these other platforms?  So have you written programs
in Python on these other platforms then?  What did 
you think of it, compared to what you've done with
Clean?  All I was asking was for more details.

Those who study my website will see I've put a lot 
of work into curriculum writing that features Python.
Plus I'm a long time student of the philosophy you 
mention (synergetics) and I have my own take on it,
which I share via my websites.  You're quite free to 
offer your criticisms and negative comments, obviously
(you do it a lot), but the question naturally arises 
as to what you would offer the world in place of what 
I've contributed.  In the so-called free market, to 
compete is to have an alternative, better product, and 
to advertise its compelling advantages.  

In your case, I'm not aware of any alternative product, 
just the negative comments, plus some Mathematica 
worksheets which are not even attempting to interpret
that whole philosophy.  So again, rather than indulge
in negative comments, how about you advertise your 
own positive contributions, i.e. your own curriculum 
writing making use of these other computer languages
you've been posting about (the DrScheme team has 
certainly set a high standard, with their high quality
materials).  

Tell us specifically what's wrong with Python from 
your own experience -- because even if the IDLE GUI 
isn't as fully developed for the Mac as it is for 
other platforms (something I'm asking about -- I don't 
know for absolute certainty), this is a rather 
superficial shortcoming that might be addressed 
(may have to do with limitations of Tk on the Mac?).  
You should be more specific, and not so quick to get 
emotional as a substitute for dealing with substance.

I apologize if saying I wasn't sure if I should 
attach any weight to your opinions was so incredibly
insulting that you had to flame, but on the other 
hand I don't think you should just assume that you 
can wade into whatever debates you see on whatever 
topic and just assume that you'll be taken seriously
no matter what.  You have to do the homework.  If 
you've done it, no problem, share your results.  If
you haven't, how about a little honesty on that score?
-- that would goes a long way towards giving people 
a better sense of what you DO have well-informed 
opinions about.  I'm quite willing to accept that 
you're more than a loudmouthed know-nothing.  I'm 
giving you the benefit of the doubt.

Kirby




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