Clarifying my role @ Pycon for Teachers

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Clarifying my role @ Pycon for Teachers

kirby urner-4

Just to clarify a little more, how I'm envisioning Python for Teachers, in case some of you are thinking about attending:

I'm wanting to stay anchored in the Pycon demographic, which is mostly private sector geeks with dependents in many cases, not many high school math teachers or anything close.

My premise, then, is I'm a manager type in the Silicon Forest (not a lie) and am surrounded by large organizations that are short on geeks, in terms of having them on board, and don't even know it, because many big business subcultures haven't tuned in any of what we on this list probably take for granted:  a thriving geek culture based in open source sharing and free access to tools.  There're still stuck in the COBOL world, or even with MUMPS (see my "suMerian" meme, also math-thinking-l).

As such a manager, I'm frustrated with the schooling around here, but rather than just whine and complain, I get access to classrooms and start showing off how it might really be done, were those of my breed allowed to interact with the kids (rarely happens, rules prevent -- even though I've been cleared at the state level to work with kids, with fingerprinting and everything, same as any union teacher). 

But among peers, fellow geeks, this is more just an excuse to tell some company war stories, share Python source, and enjoy the science fiction feeling of being in a culture that *we* had designed, rather than muggles, i.e. those who don't know what SQL means, even after enduring like four years of "mathematics" pre-college (not they're fault -- SQL doesn't make it past the relevance filters, gotta learn more about factoring polynomials, like you'll need on the job (snicker)).

What if circus performers designed your gym class?  It wouldn't be like it is.  What if Pythonistas taught your junior how to program math objects, like vectors and polynomials.  Why, he'd grow up employable, ready to rumble, ready for work, maybe without even going to college right away (that could come later, on the company's dime maybe).  As a parent, you'd be pleased.  Finally, junior is excited about hard fun, programs just for the love of it (pretty freakish).

Steve Holden has a very clear sense of the job market as well, what's out there in terms of opportunities, trends.  I'm hoping he'll help keep me focused, so if I get too pedantic with the RSA bit (a little group theory, easy Python), or with VPython vectors (rbf.py), he can suggest "too much like a math teacher" (subtle facial cues maybe) and I'll snap out of it.  I'm a CEO not some nutty professor, praise Allah, plus I don't plan on doing too much of the talking.  The premise of peer programming is peers after all, so I'm more just a guide.

Speaking of the job market, I think I said on this list that I'm subscribing to the philosophy that no one geek ever gets to sit on a code pile as the only sole responsible reader and writer thereof.  The days of the solo code pile are over, though of course we still have time alone in which to collaborate asynchronously.

Kirby Urner
4Dsolutions.net


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Programming in High School

David MacQuigg
Kirby,

This is very well written appeal, but in this mailing list, you may be preaching to the choir.  What I would like to see is a discussion of *why* there is not more teaching of programming in high school.  I can't seem to get an answer from the few high-school teachers and students I have asked. I suspect it has something to do with requiring all kids to have their own computers, not wanting the rich to have an advantage over the poor, etc.  I've thought about teaching high school myself, but the bureaucracy seems overwhelming.

At 11:37 AM 12/6/2008 -0800, kirby urner wrote:

>...
>
>As such a manager, I'm frustrated with the schooling around here, but rather than just whine and complain, I get access to classrooms and start showing off how it might really be done, were those of my breed allowed to interact with the kids (rarely happens, rules prevent -- even though I've been cleared at the state level to work with kids, with fingerprinting and everything, same as any union teacher).  
>
>But among peers, fellow geeks, this is more just an excuse to tell some company war stories, share Python source, and enjoy the science fiction feeling of being in a culture that *we* had designed, rather than muggles, i.e. those who don't know what SQL means, even after enduring like four years of "mathematics" pre-college (not they're fault -- SQL doesn't make it past the relevance filters, gotta learn more about factoring polynomials, like you'll need on the job (snicker)).
>
>What if circus performers designed your gym class?  It wouldn't be like it is.  What if Pythonistas taught your junior how to program math objects, like vectors and polynomials.  Why, he'd grow up employable, ready to rumble, ready for work, maybe without even going to college right away (that could come later, on the company's dime maybe).  As a parent, you'd be pleased.  Finally, junior is excited about hard fun, programs just for the love of it (pretty freakish).
>
>...
>
>Kirby Urner
>4Dsolutions.net


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Re: Programming in High School

kirby urner-4
I think you're spot on about the "advantage over the poor" thing, as our stronger public schools have a parent base that will fund and support Linux labs, whereas where my daughter goes, they can't afford enough chairs for the cafeteria, everyone has to spill out into Burgerville and Wendy's for some reason, fancy that (maybe some programming involved, some proprietary source we don't see?).

But in Portland, it's a given that Linux is woven into our culture.  We have theatrical events around open source (e.g. Ignite...! at the Bagdad) http://upcoming.yahoo.com/event/872418/  Torvalds lives here.  We're the capital of open source, or is that Oregon City?

So yeah, Portland is a rich city, very little sign of any economic downturn, lots of starving in the hinterlands per usual, because a lot of us learned a callous, neglectful, neo-Malthusian economics in public school, as that's what our grandfather's fathers thought made the most sense (Malthus was a London School of Economics geek, did his best to play world game without Google Earth, poor slob).

My plan is to fly to Chicago and help bring those midwesterners up to speed, on the assumption my counterparts "back east" are handling New York, HQS of our BFI and so on.  Actually, it's much smaller potatoes, not renting that blimp, just chatting with my peers, already "on the inside" in education (met a lot of you last year), and well position to help with the steering, keeping us moving towards a brighter tomorrow, wherein kids learn that "math is an extensible type system" and have Python right there on their desktops (with tons of other fun toyz), to drive that point home.

My co-conspirators on this one are Steve Holden, a Gandalf in Python Nation (very high rank), and Ian Benson (some kind of Elf? -- not one of ours quite, sociality.tv ).  These are both highly skilled guys (XY) and it's a real privilege to work with 'em, brings some balance to my day jobs, where I mostly work with highly skilled gals (XX).  My HR chief, Suzanne, is like the smartest person alive, and Wicca wise (senior partner for whom DWA is named, my partnership, files and IRS 1065, business alias 4D Solutions per US Bank records, 4D Studios another moniker... I could go on).

I guess my advice to the Obama team would be to avoid any "one size fits all" attempts to converge to some "national curriculum" like many do in Europe.  Each of the 50 states needs breathing room and none of them need Washington DC to be bossing them around like they're slaves of some central know-it-all.  We're a Federation, and this was never a monarchy.

This is even more pronounced in my case for example, out here on the west coast.  My reality includes such as Angel of the Winds, Spirit Mountain... Kahneetah, huge IT centers with state of the art software, leave Google in the dust in terms of sophistication in some ways.  All very proprietary though, you'll probably never see the inside of these IT temples unless you get the tour before they open (how Mormons do it).  Yes, I'm talking casinos, strategically positioned within semi-sovereign nations that reinvest profits rather wisely, and for the long haul, earning lots of community good will -- an economic asset even in troubled times.

In sum, I feel confidant that the Silicon Forest has much to offer the Chicagoans, plus I was actually born there, so it's like another homecoming for me (only got into the city once last year, Pycon being in the outskirts, near O'Hare, still managed to miss my plane though, ended up driving all night with GPS to find Indiana, Pennsylvania where Jimmy Stewart was from).  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000071/

Kirby


On Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 6:57 AM, David MacQuigg <[hidden email]> wrote:
Kirby,

This is very well written appeal, but in this mailing list, you may be preaching to the choir.  What I would like to see is a discussion of *why* there is not more teaching of programming in high school.  I can't seem to get an answer from the few high-school teachers and students I have asked. I suspect it has something to do with requiring all kids to have their own computers, not wanting the rich to have an advantage over the poor, etc.  I've thought about teaching high school myself, but the bureaucracy seems overwhelming.

At 11:37 AM 12/6/2008 -0800, kirby urner wrote:

>...
>
>As such a manager, I'm frustrated with the schooling around here, but rather than just whine and complain, I get access to classrooms and start showing off how it might really be done, were those of my breed allowed to interact with the kids (rarely happens, rules prevent -- even though I've been cleared at the state level to work with kids, with fingerprinting and everything, same as any union teacher).
>
>But among peers, fellow geeks, this is more just an excuse to tell some company war stories, share Python source, and enjoy the science fiction feeling of being in a culture that *we* had designed, rather than muggles, i.e. those who don't know what SQL means, even after enduring like four years of "mathematics" pre-college (not they're fault -- SQL doesn't make it past the relevance filters, gotta learn more about factoring polynomials, like you'll need on the job (snicker)).
>
>What if circus performers designed your gym class?  It wouldn't be like it is.  What if Pythonistas taught your junior how to program math objects, like vectors and polynomials.  Why, he'd grow up employable, ready to rumble, ready for work, maybe without even going to college right away (that could come later, on the company's dime maybe).  As a parent, you'd be pleased.  Finally, junior is excited about hard fun, programs just for the love of it (pretty freakish).
>
>...
>
>Kirby Urner
>4Dsolutions.net


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Re: Programming in High School

David MacQuigg
In reply to this post by David MacQuigg
At 08:22 AM 12/8/2008 -0800, kirby urner wrote:

>I think you're spot on about the "advantage over the poor" thing, as our stronger public schools have a parent base that will fund and support Linux labs,

I've also heard the argument that most kids will never be programmers ... missing the point that the important learning experience is a way of thinking, not the skill at a particular language.  You never know when a poor kid might become somebody important.

>...

>I guess my advice to the Obama team would be to avoid any "one size fits all" attempts to converge to some "national curriculum" like many do in Europe.  Each of the 50 states needs breathing room and none of them need Washington DC to be bossing them around like they're slaves of some central know-it-all.  We're a Federation, and this was never a monarchy.

I wonder if Obama has any ability in computer thinking.  He will need it if he is going to referee all the experts he has swarming around him.  I see some underlings in the Department of Homeland Security, frustrated after years of laissez-fair, have formed an Internet Security Alliance, and are pushing for major involvement by the Feds.  This could be good if Obama understands what they are saying, or bad if he can't distinguish between good advice and glib nonsense.  Let's hope Vint Cerf can keep him on the right track.


>On Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 6:57 AM, David MacQuigg <<mailto:[hidden email]>[hidden email]> wrote:
>>Kirby,
>>
>>This is very well written appeal, but in this mailing list, you may be preaching to the choir.  What I would like to see is a discussion of *why* there is not more teaching of programming in high school.  I can't seem to get an answer from the few high-school teachers and students I have asked. I suspect it has something to do with requiring all kids to have their own computers, not wanting the rich to have an advantage over the poor, etc.  I've thought about teaching high school myself, but the bureaucracy seems overwhelming.
>>
>>At 11:37 AM 12/6/2008 -0800, kirby urner wrote:
>>
>>>...
>>>
>>>As such a manager, I'm frustrated with the schooling around here, but rather than just whine and complain, I get access to classrooms and start showing off how it might really be done, were those of my breed allowed to interact with the kids (rarely happens, rules prevent -- even though I've been cleared at the state level to work with kids, with fingerprinting and everything, same as any union teacher).
>>>
>>>But among peers, fellow geeks, this is more just an excuse to tell some company war stories, share Python source, and enjoy the science fiction feeling of being in a culture that *we* had designed, rather than muggles, i.e. those who don't know what SQL means, even after enduring like four years of "mathematics" pre-college (not they're fault -- SQL doesn't make it past the relevance filters, gotta learn more about factoring polynomials, like you'll need on the job (snicker)).
>>>
>>>What if circus performers designed your gym class?  It wouldn't be like it is.  What if Pythonistas taught your junior how to program math objects, like vectors and polynomials.  Why, he'd grow up employable, ready to rumble, ready for work, maybe without even going to college right away (that could come later, on the company's dime maybe).  As a parent, you'd be pleased.  Finally, junior is excited about hard fun, programs just for the love of it (pretty freakish).
>>>
>>>...
>>>
>>>Kirby Urner
>>>4Dsolutions.net


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Re: Programming in High School

Vern Ceder
In reply to this post by David MacQuigg
David MacQuigg wrote:

> Kirby,
>
> This is very well written appeal, but in this mailing list, you may
> be preaching to the choir.  What I would like to see is a discussion
> of *why* there is not more teaching of programming in high school.  I
> can't seem to get an answer from the few high-school teachers and
> students I have asked. I suspect it has something to do with
> requiring all kids to have their own computers, not wanting the rich
> to have an advantage over the poor, etc.  I've thought about teaching
> high school myself, but the bureaucracy seems overwhelming.

David,

I am the tech director and programming teacher at an independent school
in the poor, benighted Midwest that Kirby mentions ;) (Indiana, to be
exact). We teach Scratch programming and Lego robotics in the elementary
grades, Python and a little Alice in middle school, and Java, Python and
a little C in the high school. We don't require our kids to program at
home - they have plenty of chances to work on things at school. Now mind
you, most of our kids DO have machines at home, but only a tiny fraction
(the hardcore) bother to install Python or Java on them. And here in
Indiana, we have enough Linux computers in schools (some 150,000 as of
the start of this year) that even poor schools COULD have the access.

OTOH, as an independent school, we don't have layers of bureaucracy to
deal with, so we can pursue what we value. Teachers (and even
administrators) in the public sector don't have that ability. I've done
training sessions and day-long workshops for teachers in the state (and
in the Chicago suburbs), and here are the reasons I see that more
schools don't offer programming:

1) Lack of qualified staff. Sadly a graduate with a teaching certificate
(as required by the state) usually doesn't have anything like the
background to teach programming, let alone do the sorts of things that
Kirby has experimented with.

2) Numbers - at my school, 6-10 kids in AP Programming is considered a
good year. In the public schools around town, in a short-sighted drive
for efficiency, (but see item 1 above also) administration routinely
kills any elective that can't get 3 times that.

3) The whole "integration" trend in tech in education - 15 years ago it
was assumed that as technology became ubiquitous we wouldn't have to
teach it, any more than you need to know about electricity to turn on a
light. Of course, that analogy was bogus on both ends, but schools have
moved in that direction anyway, killing what little programming they did
have. Only now (and only very slowly) are they realizing that their
students are the poorer for it.

These factors (and others of course) combined with the many layers of
bureaucracy create a negative feedback loop that is next to impossible
for students, teachers or even parents to beat. In fact, I've talked to
state education officials that nearly despair of making any headway in
some of our schools.



--
This time for sure!
    -Bullwinkle J. Moose
-----------------------------
Vern Ceder, Director of Technology
Canterbury School, 3210 Smith Road, Ft Wayne, IN 46804
[hidden email]; 260-436-0746; FAX: 260-436-5137

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Re: Programming in High School

laboo
In reply to this post by David MacQuigg
David,

Here's my small nugget of experience:

My son goes to a prep school in southern CA, and when we met with his adviser at the end of 8th grade last spring to plan out his high school curriculum, I was floored to learn that there were no computer science classes offered at all anymore. Here's the reasoning the adviser gave for the dropping of the computer courses: The College Board is eliminating the advanced level AP exam for computer science. (There are two exams, Computer Science A and Computer Science AB. AB is being discontinued after 2009. Both use Java, by the way.) And why is the higher level exam being eliminated? Because not enough people take it.


And here's my philosophical take on the larger issue:

My personal opinion on computer language learning in high school is that it's not going to happen until something else is eliminated from the curriculum. And what needs to be eliminated is foreign languages. If that rubs you the wrong way, just hear me out. Most students are forced to take two or three years of a foreign language and come away with precious little for their efforts. Very few can speak it intelligibly or comprehend even simple conversations. And the bulk of what they do learn fades quickly from memory. In my opinion, we still force students to do this despite the failure rate in terms of actually learning the language because (1) we believe students are learning about a foreign *culture* in their foreign language classes, and (2) they're doing a type of logical calisthenics. But learning culture through language is like learning geography through travel. It results in a deeper understanding, yes, but it's way, way too inefficient. Foreign cultures can and should be taught directly. As for the logical work out, foreign languages have much too large a lexicon and are way too laden with exceptions for that. Their study quickly devolves into memorization hell.

Computer languages, on the other hand, are small, have limited exceptional behavior, and are imminently useful. Two or three serious years of study in high school would make most students "fluent" enough in a language to use it in a job setting, not to mention the ability to pick up other computer languages, and to have much better problem solving skills in general. Plus, every compiler/interpreter is a native speaker eagerly waiting to correct their syntax.

Required foreign language study made sense when learning "the classics" in their native tongues constituted being educated. Those days are long gone.

So, to summarize, I believe the "plan of attack" needs to focus on opening up a hole in the high school curriculum for computer languages to squeeze into, and the foreign language study slot seems to be the right fit. At the very least, it needs to have the same status as Latin (how sad is that?), an option at some high schools for students who don't want to learn a modern day language.

Mark

On Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 6:57 AM, David MacQuigg <[hidden email]> wrote:
Kirby,

This is very well written appeal, but in this mailing list, you may be preaching to the choir.  What I would like to see is a discussion of *why* there is not more teaching of programming in high school.  I can't seem to get an answer from the few high-school teachers and students I have asked. I suspect it has something to do with requiring all kids to have their own computers, not wanting the rich to have an advantage over the poor, etc.  I've thought about teaching high school myself, but the bureaucracy seems overwhelming.

At 11:37 AM 12/6/2008 -0800, kirby urner wrote:

>...
>
>As such a manager, I'm frustrated with the schooling around here, but rather than just whine and complain, I get access to classrooms and start showing off how it might really be done, were those of my breed allowed to interact with the kids (rarely happens, rules prevent -- even though I've been cleared at the state level to work with kids, with fingerprinting and everything, same as any union teacher).
>
>But among peers, fellow geeks, this is more just an excuse to tell some company war stories, share Python source, and enjoy the science fiction feeling of being in a culture that *we* had designed, rather than muggles, i.e. those who don't know what SQL means, even after enduring like four years of "mathematics" pre-college (not they're fault -- SQL doesn't make it past the relevance filters, gotta learn more about factoring polynomials, like you'll need on the job (snicker)).
>
>What if circus performers designed your gym class?  It wouldn't be like it is.  What if Pythonistas taught your junior how to program math objects, like vectors and polynomials.  Why, he'd grow up employable, ready to rumble, ready for work, maybe without even going to college right away (that could come later, on the company's dime maybe).  As a parent, you'd be pleased.  Finally, junior is excited about hard fun, programs just for the love of it (pretty freakish).
>
>...
>
>Kirby Urner
>4Dsolutions.net


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Re: Programming in High School

kirby urner-4
In reply to this post by David MacQuigg
On Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 11:26 AM, David MacQuigg
<[hidden email]> wrote:
> At 08:22 AM 12/8/2008 -0800, kirby urner wrote:
>
>>I think you're spot on about the "advantage over the poor" thing, as our stronger public schools have a parent base that will fund and support Linux labs,
>
> I've also heard the argument that most kids will never be programmers ... missing the point that the important learning experience is a way of thinking, not the skill at a particular language.  You never know when a poor kid might become somebody important.

Exactly right.  It was never about "becoming a pro programmer" for me,
any more than learning how to drive means you're planning on becoming
a chauffeur for a living, even if some of us do.  These choices come
later.  What's important at the secondary level is to keep doors open,
and that includes showing off geek subcultures as potentially
attractive, having a footprint for recruiting purposes.  We'll not
take a back seat to the pro mathematicians, who apparently obsess
about parabolas, think "integration by parts" is the bees knees (go
figure).

>>...
>
>>I guess my advice to the Obama team would be to avoid any "one size fits all" attempts to converge to some "national curriculum" like many do in Europe.  Each of the 50 states needs breathing room and none of them need Washington DC to be bossing them around like they're slaves of some central know-it-all.  We're a Federation, and this was never a monarchy.
>
> I wonder if Obama has any ability in computer thinking.  He will need it if he is going to referee all the experts he has swarming around him.  I see some underlings in the Department of Homeland Security, frustrated after years of laissez-fair, have formed an Internet Security Alliance, and are pushing for major involvement by the Feds.  This could be good if Obama understands what they are saying, or bad if he can't distinguish between good advice and glib nonsense.  Let's hope Vint Cerf can keep him on the right track.

As president, it's not required that he be a geek, no precedent for
that in history so far, not even Garfield (though he would have been,
given the chance I think), Ben Franklin closest?  But no Python back
then, Ada still doing her first virtual machine thing (Babbage engine
not in her lifetime), weaving the first vaporware (all she could do,
same as Leibniz).  The only real chess playing computer back then was
The Turk, who turned out to be a dwarf (OK, a spoiler, but we can't
hide these things forever now can we?).

Just about everyone and their younger brother wants a piece of the war
on terror, DARPA deluged with proposals, most of them sounding quite
similar.  Obama will get the tour of the eye candy facilities (as seen
on TV), the giant multi-screen anti-terrorism centers that look like
one would expect.  He'll get briefed on this that and the other about
cyber security threats.  But he won't have to feel he's all alone in
the decision-making.  He has friends in high places that've served in
several administrations and are not inexperienced in these issues,
feeling upbeat about his team.

Anyway, not my problem.  I'm thousands of miles away in Silicon
Forest, working with Coffee Shops Network e.g. places like Back Space
and livingroom.com, trying to organize around the concept of meetings
for business that keep that Portland flavored edginess.  Very niche.
Can't say I'm really tracking all that's going on politically, have no
time for the political blogs for example, don't know if I've ever
checked the ones everyone talks about (used to check Buzz Flash, is
that still going strong?), though I do catch up via 'Comedy Central'
on DirecTV sometimes, CBS News (morning show too sometimes, now that
my daughter is into it).

Kirby

PS:  here's another citation to Doug Engelbart, someone Alan Kay kept
going on about when Guido and I packed into that little meeting room
with Gunner, to have it out about the different languages and what to
do with them.  I got very little air time for my proposals, maybe 5
minutes in IDLE, mostly just had a very loud laptop fan, not running
Ubuntu, kind of awkward.  Loved how I got treated though, very kind
people, lots of Guinness, Indian food, great Cape Town hospitality, in
Kensington.  Fond memories.  http://programforthefuture.org/
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Re: Programming in High School

kirby urner-4
In reply to this post by Vern Ceder
Hey, great analysis you guys!

Erratum:  said livingroom.com but meant livingroomtheater.com , picks
up where McMenamins leaves off in some ways, in taking it further with
the adult content.  I shot some Photostream on the way back from my
breakfast with Allegra (Bucky Fuller's daughter), basically like a
movie theater, but with Wifi and booze, if that makes any sense:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/17157315@N00/2949088343/in/photostream/

Here's some analysis of my own, kicking off from what ya'll were just
yakking about:

<rant>

Re hegemony of ETS (near Princeton), high schools kow-towing to what
they think "colleges want" (because ETS says so):  I'm happy to report
that ETS does not have a monopoly on the testing idea, so that elite
academies who want to specify more computer language savvy, as a
barrier to entry (a filtering criterion) are free to do so.  If you
want to go to an "ETS school" then jump through their hoops, sure.
But life is short, and you want to be smarter than that.  In that
case, consider looking for better testing opportunities, get a sense
of what's really called for on the job (not like your grandfather's AP
Calc testing, that's for certain (know what a GPS device is, how to
use one?)).

Re having to take something out before adding more in, not sure, as
there's lots of padding to fill out 12 years, lots of boring
repetition, persuading kids it's all so tough and difficult.
Winterhaven wasn't like that, so my daughter and her cohort are
sailing through chemisty, have no problem with 1 mole = Avogadro's
number = how many carbon atoms in 12 grams of carbon 12 at sea level
(actually, I don't think sea level matters, not a chemistry major).
Horsepower whatever.  Same stuff they learned in 8th grade, a lot of
it, not waiting for ETS to approve.

So maybe "compression algorithms" could teach us something valuable?
I'm thinking all of 5th grade math could be compressed to one
Spongebob episode, properly scripted, whereas Bill Nye the Science guy
did most of science with little help from the big dummy textbook
crowed (BDTs we call 'em -- lots more on Math Forum, also called
"doorstops" (kids fall over backwards being so top heavy with
backpacks, pathetic and a waste of Oregon lumber)).

I like that we have 50 states.  Here in Oregon, we have no
compunctions about beating the pants off of California, when it comes
to providing a stronger curriculum, plus we trust ETS to keep the
other states retarded.  That way, Silicon Forest reaps a great crop,
and the rest of you slobs work in fast food (snicker).

OK, I'm being mean.  But really folks, what will it take?  I think the
fact that Python programming might involve lots of  Chinese
characters, is already getting viewed in that way in big corporations
I work with (so-called silos), will prove a kick in the pants to the
complacent.  Universities will see those high tuitions as the huge
deterrents they've become, what with native English speakers so
valuable overseas.  Get a free ticket, and a computer science degree
at the same time, from someplace in Asia.  Don't waste your time in
the US, where they still think "programming" is something you do with
a VCR (sneer).

</rant>

Looking foward!

Kirby
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Re: Programming in High School

michel paul-2
In reply to this post by Vern Ceder
David:
>What I would like to see is a discussion of *why* there is not more teaching of programming in high school.

Especially given that 'integrating technology into the curriculum' is given such lip service. 

Most people equate technology with tool use.  They seldom equate it with language and a set of ways to articulate ideas.  Seems to me that's where education should especially be focused. 

I think part of the problem in the past has been the misunderstanding about tech jobs getting outsourced.  I've heard people say there's no point in becoming a programmer, because all the jobs are going overseas.  It's really kind of silly.
 
>I've also heard the argument that most kids will never be programmers
 
Right.  That's an argument I keep running into.  I say, well, most kids won't become historians either, but they still study history.

Vern:

3) The whole "integration" trend in tech in education - 15 years ago it
was assumed that as technology became ubiquitous we wouldn't have to
teach it, any more than you need to know about electricity to turn on a
light. Of course, that analogy was bogus on both ends, but schools have
moved in that direction anyway, killing what little programming they did
have. Only now (and only very slowly) are they realizing that their
students are the poorer for it.

This is a great point.   It hits the nail right on the head for a lot of frustrating discussions I've had regarding putting programming into the math curriculum.

- Michel


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Re: Programming in High School

David MacQuigg
In reply to this post by Vern Ceder
At 03:30 PM 12/8/2008 -0800, michel paul wrote:

>David:
>>>What I would like to see is a discussion of *why* there is not more teaching of programming in high school.
>
>I think part of the problem in the past has been the misunderstanding about tech jobs getting outsourced.  I've heard people say there's no point in becoming a programmer, because all the jobs are going overseas.  It's really kind of silly.

Stated that way, it does seem circular.  I've heard it stated more convincingly by an EE prof to a class of undergrads.  "If you go into engineering, you will be facing layoffs."  Imagine the effect of that expectation on smart students who see their buddies going into law or medicine, and getting more pay and more respect than engineers.  It's no wonder there are almost no US students in our graduate classes.  I've thought about what I would have said to those students.  It would be more like "If money is your major motivation, find another profession.  If technology is in your blood, stay with it.  Learn everything you can.  The money will come out OK."

We need a shocker like Sputnik.  Maybe this economic crisis will do it.  It's not as directly related to technical education as was Sputnik, and it may be even tougher to spend money on education now than it was in 1957, but consider the alternative.  What will we have to offer our trading partners.  Not manufacturing.  Not intellectual work.  Real estate?

I have high hopes we will come to our senses.  A year ago, I had almost everything in commodities.  Now I am switching back to stocks.  I just hope I can ride it out.


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Re: Programming in High School

Guido van Rossum
On Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 5:10 PM, David MacQuigg <[hidden email]> wrote:
> At 03:30 PM 12/8/2008 -0800, michel paul wrote:
>
>>David:
>>>>What I would like to see is a discussion of *why* there is not more teaching of programming in high school.
>>
>>I think part of the problem in the past has been the misunderstanding about tech jobs getting outsourced.  I've heard people say there's no point in becoming a programmer, because all the jobs are going overseas.  It's really kind of silly.
>
> Stated that way, it does seem circular.  I've heard it stated more convincingly by an EE prof to a class of undergrads.  "If you go into engineering, you will be facing layoffs."  Imagine the effect of that expectation on smart students who see their buddies going into law or medicine, and getting more pay and more respect than engineers.  It's no wonder there are almost no US students in our graduate classes.  I've thought about what I would have said to those students.  It would be more like "If money is your major motivation, find another profession.  If technology is in your blood, stay with it.  Learn everything you can.  The money will come out OK."

I read this as: Engineering is something where mediocrity doesn't pay.
Doctors and lawyers are like cobblers, their output is limited by the
number of hours they can work, so there is room for good solid workers
who aren't particularly innovative. Engineering at its best is not
like that at all. It's a field whose main *point* is to make manual
labor redundant. Good engineers do their work because it's their
passion. The rest... Well they can always try to earn a living
cranking out Java code. ;-)

> We need a shocker like Sputnik.

There won't be one. History doesn't repeat itself that literally. Each
crisis is fundamentally different, because each time we've learned
from the last one.

> Maybe this economic crisis will do it.  It's not as directly related to technical education as was Sputnik, and it may be even tougher to spend money on education now than it was in 1957, but consider the alternative.  What will we have to offer our trading partners.  Not manufacturing.  Not intellectual work.  Real estate?

I disagree that we have no intellectual work to offer. Most outsourced
work I have witnessed first-hand is poorly done. Yes, if your primary
skill is J2EE, you should be afraid, very afraid. (Or Perl, if the geo
data shown by Google trends is any indication. :-) OTOH if you have a
passion for inventing great engineering solutions, the USA is still
the place to be.

I think it's fine that engineering isn't the job creation engine that
people once thought it might be. It's a place where the best and
brightest shine. In the dot-com times everyone dropped out of whatever
they were doing and suddenly became a web designer. Of course, those
were most eagerly hired by dot-bombs, and the first to lose their
jobs.

> I have high hopes we will come to our senses.  A year ago, I had almost everything in commodities.  Now I am switching back to stocks.  I just hope I can ride it out.

I don't get the connection. But maybe this is just your way of hinting
that you are in it for the money.

--
--Guido van Rossum (home page: http://www.python.org/~guido/)
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Re: Programming in High School

Andy Judkis
In reply to this post by David MacQuigg
Well, I'm a high school teacher, and today we started to learn about
programming in my 10th grade "Principles of Computer Technology" class.  
I tell them that we do it because it's a good intellectual skill to
develop, it builds their problem solving and critical thinking
abilities, it's fun, and they might be able to use it someday.  We start
off with RUR-PLE, which I've been using with great success for several
years now.

I don't try to turn them into programmers --  I just try to diminish
their utter clueless about how programming works, and give them a sense
of the possibilities.  I would like the handful who might want to pursue
it to have a good first exposure to it, of course.   I'm always hoping
that someone will really take to it, and come back and show me cool
things that they've done on their own, but so far (four years now, about
300 kids) it hasn't happened once.

I really do worry about the world that these kids are going into, and
what kinds of opportunities they're going to have.  As Guido implies,
the really sharp ones will thrive, but what about the rest of them/us?  
My best advice to them is to stay out of debt, and not expect to be as
wealthy as their parents.  I hope that they can find something that they
care about to do for a living, and that that will be enough.  
Demographics, deficits, and environmental concerns are just going to
make their lives tougher.  Their real problems are not going to be
solved because they learned Python instead of Java.

- Andy
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Re: Programming in High School

David MacQuigg
In reply to this post by David MacQuigg
At 06:52 PM 12/8/2008 -0800, Guido van Rossum wrote:

>On Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 5:10 PM, David MacQuigg <[hidden email]> wrote:
>> At 03:30 PM 12/8/2008 -0800, michel paul wrote:
>>
>>>I think part of the problem in the past has been the misunderstanding about tech jobs getting outsourced.  I've heard people say there's no point in becoming a programmer, because all the jobs are going overseas.  It's really kind of silly.
>>
>> Stated that way, it does seem circular.  I've heard it stated more convincingly by an EE prof to a class of undergrads.  "If you go into engineering, you will be facing layoffs."  Imagine the effect of that expectation on smart students who see their buddies going into law or medicine, and getting more pay and more respect than engineers.  It's no wonder there are almost no US students in our graduate classes.  I've thought about what I would have said to those students.  It would be more like "If money is your major motivation, find another profession.  If technology is in your blood, stay with it.  Learn everything you can.  The money will come out OK."
>
>I read this as: Engineering is something where mediocrity doesn't pay.
>Doctors and lawyers are like cobblers, their output is limited by the
>number of hours they can work, so there is room for good solid workers
>who aren't particularly innovative. Engineering at its best is not
>like that at all. It's a field whose main *point* is to make manual
>labor redundant. Good engineers do their work because it's their
>passion. The rest... Well they can always try to earn a living
>cranking out Java code. ;-)

I'm a bit uncomfortable with the idea that engineering is a field where only the brightest should feel comfortable.  There is plenty of need for good solid workers, and I would like to see our schools and our economy support that.  If we outsource the grunt work, and hope to keep just the top geniuses employed, eventually we lose the top also.  I remember in the 80's thinking the Japanese could never catch up with us in circuit design.  They just didn't have the creative spark.  It wasn't in their culture.

>> We need a shocker like Sputnik.
>
>There won't be one. History doesn't repeat itself that literally. Each
>crisis is fundamentally different, because each time we've learned
>from the last one.

Yet we seem to repeat one bubble after another, and all that changes is the specific investment, stocks one time, real estate the next, then back to stocks again, with a slightly different story, so what we learned from the last one doesn't apply.  I guess we did learn something from the tulip bubble.  We'll never fall for that one again!  Orchids, maybe, but never tulips! :>)

Maybe instead of Sputnik, it will be a cyber attack.  I know some smart folks who are taking that threat seriously.  I find it hard to believe.  We do need a wake-up call, but one that doesn't cause any real damage.

>> Maybe this economic crisis will do it.  It's not as directly related to technical education as was Sputnik, and it may be even tougher to spend money on education now than it was in 1957, but consider the alternative.  What will we have to offer our trading partners.  Not manufacturing.  Not intellectual work.  Real estate?
>
>I disagree that we have no intellectual work to offer. Most outsourced
>work I have witnessed first-hand is poorly done. Yes, if your primary
>skill is J2EE, you should be afraid, very afraid. (Or Perl, if the geo
>data shown by Google trends is any indication. :-) OTOH if you have a
>passion for inventing great engineering solutions, the USA is still
>the place to be.

unless your passion is consumer electronics.  I wonder how long it will be before India is the place to be in Computer Science.

>I think it's fine that engineering isn't the job creation engine that
>people once thought it might be. It's a place where the best and
>brightest shine. In the dot-com times everyone dropped out of whatever
>they were doing and suddenly became a web designer. Of course, those
>were most eagerly hired by dot-bombs, and the first to lose their
>jobs.

The root cause here was bubble think, not too many people wanting to work in technology.

What ever happened to the original enthusiasm with Computer Programming for Everyone?  If everyone with a high school diploma knew how to write a simple program, not only would we be more productive, but we would understand the world better.  Instead of loose talk and isolated numbers, the news would show us charts.  The general public, not just experts, would have seen the very obvious bubble growing in the housing market, and could see now where we are on the down side.  What if the average real estate agent could show me the price trends on property similar to what I am looking at.  Instead, I have to dig out the data myself, and plot it in Excel.  Then when I show her the result, she still doesn't see the significance.  

What if the general public (and our candidates) clearly understood the difference between religious belief and scientific fact.  Well, maybe that's too much to expect from a course in programming, but it would be a step in the right direction. (Some would say the wrong direction.  Maybe that is one more reason to add to our list.)

>> I have high hopes we will come to our senses.  A year ago, I had almost everything in commodities.  Now I am switching back to stocks.  I just hope I can ride it out.
>
>I don't get the connection. But maybe this is just your way of hinting
>that you are in it for the money.

Sorry for being obscure.  I was trying to emphasize that I am more optimistic now than I was a year ago.  Commodities were a hedge against the economic disaster I thought was coming.  The real estate collapse may have actually saved us from that disaster.  Stocks are faith in the future.

I trade to make money (or avoid losing it).  I do engineering because I love the work, even when I don't get paid for it.

-- David MacQuigg (http://purl.net/macquigg)



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Re: Programming in High School

kirby urner-4
Re outsourcing, here I am in the capital of open source (Portland, per
Christian Science Monitor that time -- San Jose uncomfortable with
that, stealing back OSCON -- OK, OK, their turn, we agree), and yet
when push comes to shove, there's a rather tiny geek culture.

I find myself advising Symmetric to check with Aiste's POV in Vilnius,
as one of the more qualified shops, as we start scraping the bottom of
our barrel.  Jason got snatched away by idealist.org, whereas some
others don't have much experience, e.g. insist on working solo.

So I completely empathize with Intel, needing engineers from
elsewhere.  South Africa a good source.

It's not that I think Oregonians are stupid, just they've been sold a
bill of goods by the ETS army, made to jump through irrelevant hoops
to the point of ridiculousness, leaving good jobs going begging.

That's why we have Saturday Academy, to track at least a few talented
kids into a relevant curriculum for a change, no more of this pablum.
Not every city is so lucky.  Not every city has our Silicon Forest
(which extends northward to embrace Seattle, the Space Needle one of
our branding tools).

Anyway, looking forward to Chicago.  I've been thinking how corporate
trainers such as myself might inject a note of hilarity in adult
settings, even while staying on task with the Python.  Turns out
that's easy:  Flying Circus to the rescue.  We do little skits.
Here's a sample in my blog:
http://mybizmo.blogspot.com/2008/12/car-czar.html

Kirby
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Re: Programming in High School

Paul D. Fernhout
In reply to this post by David MacQuigg
David MacQuigg wrote:
 > What ever happened to the original enthusiasm with Computer Programming
 > for Everyone?  If everyone with a high school diploma knew how to write a
 > simple program, not only would we be more productive, but we would
 > understand the world better.  Instead of loose talk and isolated numbers,
 > the news would show us charts.  The general public, not just experts,
 > would have seen the very obvious bubble growing in the housing market,
 > and could see now where we are on the down side.  What if the average
 > real estate agent could show me the price trends on property similar to
 > what I am looking at.  Instead, I have to dig out the data myself, and
 > plot it in Excel.  Then when I show her the result, she still doesn't see
 > the significance.

Many years ago someone said (probably Kirby, and probably on this list)
essentially that while "computing" is taught in school as if it were a
subset of schoolish "math", it's really more true that schoolish "math" is a
subset of "computing". Obviously, real knock-your-socks-off math subsumes
*everything*, as in physics is a subset of math in a way, but that is not
the case either in most K-12 schools. And even then, the lines between
computing and math are starting to blur, as even modern physicists now spend
a lot of time with their computer simulations that their base equations. So,
I feel from a practical point of view, computing should be introduced as
early as possible in education (perhaps after, say age seven and kids get
the real world at an intuitive level), and learning to do schoolish math
(including algebra, trigonometry, logical proofs of correctness, and so on)
should flow from that. And, for example, you can then link things like
physics, chemistry, and biology (and even English and history) into a
computer base curriculum using simulation and data acquisition.

On the larger issue:

David MacQuigg also wrote:
> At 06:52 PM 12/8/2008 -0800, Guido van Rossum wrote:
>> On Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 5:10 PM, David MacQuigg
>> <[hidden email]> wrote:
>>> At 03:30 PM 12/8/2008 -0800, michel paul wrote:
>>>> I think part of the problem in the past has been the
>>>> misunderstanding about tech jobs getting outsourced.  I've heard
>>>> people say there's no point in becoming a programmer, because all
>>>> the jobs are going overseas.  It's really kind of silly.
 >>>

>>> Stated that way, it does seem circular.  I've heard it stated more
>>> convincingly by an EE prof to a class of undergrads.  "If you go into
>>> engineering, you will be facing layoffs."  Imagine the effect of that
>>> expectation on smart students who see their buddies going into law or
>>> medicine, and getting more pay and more respect than engineers.  It's
>>> no wonder there are almost no US students in our graduate classes.
>>> I've thought about what I would have said to those students.  It
>>> would be more like "If money is your major motivation, find another
>>> profession.  If technology is in your blood, stay with it.  Learn
>>> everything you can.  The money will come out OK."
 >>

>> I read this as: Engineering is something where mediocrity doesn't pay.
>> Doctors and lawyers are like cobblers, their output is limited by the
>> number of hours they can work, so there is room for good solid workers
>> who aren't particularly innovative. Engineering at its best is not like
>> that at all. It's a field whose main *point* is to make manual labor
>> redundant. Good engineers do their work because it's their passion. The
>> rest... Well they can always try to earn a living cranking out Java
>> code. ;-)
>
> I'm a bit uncomfortable with the idea that engineering is a field where
> only the brightest should feel comfortable.  There is plenty of need for
> good solid workers, and I would like to see our schools and our economy
> support that.  If we outsource the grunt work, and hope to keep just the
> top geniuses employed, eventually we lose the top also.  I remember in
> the 80's thinking the Japanese could never catch up with us in circuit
> design.  They just didn't have the creative spark.  It wasn't in their
> culture.

On this general topic of the cultural context of engineering education,
here a few ideas about historical trends, and one speculation based on
projecting things forward a couple decades from what Guido said elsewhere.

After WWII, the USA was the only significant manufacturing power. Europe and
much of Aisa were either in rubble, social turmoil, or both. The Southern
hemisphere still had little infrastructure too. So, it could be expected
that the manufacturing base in the USA would grow as it made stuff for the
world, and like China today, this would be a good position to be in, having
the world depending on it for stuff. But over the decades, this unusual
situation has shifted, and while the USA still sells a lot of manufactured
goods, as the world has rebuilt in some places and developed industrially in
others, a more normal situation is reestablishing itself. Culturally, it is
true that different places have different strengths and weaknesses, like
Japan may struggle with too much conformity. On the other hand, the rest of
the world now seems to be more quickly getting the cooperative nature of
developing "free and open source" software, content, and physical design.

Also, before, during, and after WWII, the USA received for various reasons a
  significant influx of educated immigrants, like Einstein and van Braun,
and many others (including those the USA scooped up from the ruins of
post-WWII Germany). These are the people who helped give the USA atomic
energy (and weapons) and who helped put a person on the moon, among many
other innovations, flowing out of the grasp these people had of math and
practical engineering. To an extent, the USA has been riding this
intellectual capital instead of developing a culture that can as easily
create educated people as the playful tradition of Germany up until the
early 1930s. Over the last few decades, as these people have aged and died,
the USA has lost some of its edge as well. Obviously, the USA can produce
some educated people, but, as with manufacturing, the relative dominance
again has been lost.

Also, for reasons of basic capitalism, formerly USA-based firms have seen it
profitable in the short term to exploit a highly valued dollar to do
operations oversee, as well as exploiting the relative greater social
inequality in those countries (as one H1B holder from India put it to me,
back in India he could afford a lot of servants on what he was earning and
saving). Also, US citizens as contractors usually commanded a multiple of
the prevailing wage for short term contracts, whereas H1Bs only need be paid
the "prevailing wage" (what is not said is, "of an employee, not a
contractor".) So, all those factors have made it more profitable for US
firms to train foreign nationals in technology, again eroding any edge the
USA had resulting from the above two factors.

Where does that leave future students? As the US dollar falls (the current
rise is only short term as people sell dollar-denominated assets and hold
the cash, unsure how to invest), this fall will make outsourcing less
profitable, so US manufacturing will get some good news. Similarly, as other
countries address internal inequities of their own rich-poor divides, it
will also get harder to outsource or use H1Bs profitably (no more hiring a
chauffeur, maid, and a cook on a programmer's salary, so why bother working
for US Americans?). So, in the long term, that is all good news for US
students interested in manufacturing. It is my hope that rather than the US
standard of living significantly falling, that it will just stay static as
the rest of the world catches up, with better technology in the USA
offsetting other financial losses (like, your job pays less, but playing
games at home is more fun and educational and more fulfilling socially, like
the Wii is a first example of).

But there are two other counter-trends to the good news which are more serious.

One is the collapse of the value of the PhD in the USA, as documented by Dr.
David Goodstein, Vice Provost of Caltech. His essential point is that the
educational system mines and sort and polishes students looking for a few
PhD-quality students, while discarding the rest. He says this emphasis needs
to change for two reasons. One is that the discarded students are left
mostly scientifically and technically illiterate which is wasteful and a
threat to a democracy dependent on technology. The other reason is that
academeia grew exponentially until the 1970s in the USA, creating plenty of
jobs for people with PhDs, but that era is over and now most PhDs being
created are surplus. When I look at the academic departments I have been
part of in the past, and see most of the same professors there who were
there in the 1980s and 1990s, this rings all to true. There are just not
many new slots compared to the number of science PhDs produce. Industrial
R&D is small, to begin with. So, we see more and more call for PhDs in K-12
or other situations (but that is not the expectation these people had, so
they are often unhappy). Medicine and Law, on the other hand, by tightly
controlling the number of related schools producing such professionals, and
continually lobbying for increased restrictions on who can practice has
managed to create an artificial scarcity of doctors and lawyers, which keeps
their salaries up. There were many things common in the past, like passing
the bar exam without going to law school, or pharmacists prescribing
medicines, or midwives delivering babies at home, which are pretty much
illegal now. But anyone can practice computer programming. I can take my car
to a good mechanic without much of an appointment, but I may need to wait
weeks or months to see a competent doctor -- because of this artificial
scarcity. This isn't an argument for licensing programmers, I'm just
pointing to the historical difference. By the way, there are at least two
big tiers of doctors -- family practice and specialist, and while in my
opinion family practice sounds harder, it is the specialists who get the
extra training and get the big bucks, so there is some room there for the
more ambitious. In any case, when you couple the collapse of the PhD pyramid
scheme system in a sense, along with outsourcing and H1Bs, then it is no
wonder people who thirty years ago would have pursued advanced study in
science or engineering are now tempted by law or medicine. The law is a lot
like programming (based on precedent, or subroutine call :-) and medicine
these days is more and more science and technology driven. Still, even if we
were to quadruple the numbers of doctors produced per year (please, no more
lawyers :-), at 100,000 (up from 25000 per year) that would not at all
accommodate the millions of kids a year interested in science and
engineering.  And of course, many doctors are unhappy because of insurance
reimbursement and other societal issues. And nurses and aids are already in
short supply as the jobs are very stressful with little control or
recognition. So, in short, there is no where for most of these kids to go to
apply their skills in a profitable and pleasant way, at least, not on terms
anywhere like those people were getting thirty years ago.

The other is an even more serious issue that that. It was predicted in the
1960s, and echoes Guido's point of "Engineering at its best is not
like that at all. It's a field whose main *point* is to make manual
labor redundant." To amplify on Guido's point, see:
   "The Triple Revolution":
   http://www.educationanddemocracy.org/FSCfiles/C_CC2a_TripleRevolution.htm
"The fundamental problem posed by the cybernation revolution in the U.S. is
that it invalidates the general mechanism so far employed to undergird
people’s rights as consumers. Up to this time economic resources have been
distributed on the basis of contributions to production, with machines and
men competing for employment on somewhat equal terms. In the developing
cybernated system, potentially unlimited output can be achieved by systems
of machines which will require little cooperation from human beings. As
machines take over production from men, they absorb an increasing proportion
of resources while the men who are displaced become dependent on minimal and
unrelated government measures—unemployment insurance, social security,
welfare payments. These measures are less and less able to disguise a
historic paradox: That a substantial proportion of the population is
subsisting on minimal incomes, often below the poverty line, at a time when
sufficient productive potential is available to supply the needs of everyone
in the U.S. ... The industrial system was designed to produce an
ever-increasing quantity of goods as efficiently as possible, and it was
assumed that the distribution of the power to purchase these goods would
occur almost automatically. The continuance of the income-through-jobs link
as the only major mechanism for distributing effective demand -- for
granting the right to consume -- now acts as the main brake on the almost
unlimited capacity of a cybernated productive system."

If you want a more modern take on this, see Marshall Brain's sci-fi:
   "Manna"
   http://www.marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm
or his non-fiction:
   "Robotic Nation"
   http://www.marshallbrain.com/robotic-nation.htm

Or you could see the writing of any of a number of other technologists, like
Ray Kurzweil:
   "The Law of Accelerating Returns"
    http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0134.html?printable=1

My own take on this:
   "Post-Scarcity Princeton"
   http://www.pdfernhout.net/post-scarcity-princeton.html
The most important point there is: "Capitalism is often it seems all about
cost cutting. Why do people have such a hard time thinking about what
happens as costs approach zero, even for improvements in quality? Or why do
economists have a hard time understanding that many conventional economic
equations may produce infinities as costs trend towards zero? "

But going back to Marshall Brain's non-fiction, he writes in Robotic Nation:
"I don't think anyone in 1900 could imagine the B-52 happening in 54 years.
Over the next 55 years, the same thing will happen to us with robots. In the
process, the entire employment landscape in America will change. Here is why
that will happen. ... The arrival of humanoid robots should be a cause for
celebration. With the robots doing most of the work, it should be possible
for everyone to go on perpetual vacation. Instead, robots will displace
millions of employees, leaving them unable to find work and therefore
destitute. I believe that it is time to start rethinking our economy and
understanding how we will allow people to live their lives in a robotic
nation. ..."

Ultimately, money on education now is not going to make much of a difference
in twenty or thirty years as far as the "competitiveness" that schools and
business people are often talking about, see:
  "IBM CEO Sam Palmisano's speech at the Council of Foreign Relations on "A
Smarter Planet""
  http://www.cfr.org/publication/17696
if, as predicted, following Moore's law and exponential growth, you can buy
a computer that can run a human-level AI for about $1000 in 2038 or sooner.
   "When will computer hardware match the human brain?"
   http://www.transhumanist.com/volume1/moravec.htm

I developed this theme here:
http://groups.google.com/group/openmanufacturing/msg/72330a22bcae8928?hl=en
"""
The handwriting is on the wall, not just for compulsory schools, but for
other large parts of our social structure they link up with. It's not
necessarily a bad message either, if we accept it and try our hardest to
make the best of it. It's not like one day the robots and AIs will suddenly
take over (I hope). It is more like bit by bit things will continue to
change and these things will show up in our lives, and our social network
will shape them based on our priorities. For example, luxury cars have moved
from anti-lock brakes, then to GPS course routing, then to Electronic
Stability Control, and now the big thing is adaptive cruise control using
radar to maintain a fixed distance from the next car, and also automatic
parallel parking. Soon more safety features will be common to detect
swerving lane changes, to drive by radar in fog, to brake fast and swerve to
avoid deer, and so on, until before we know it, we decide in about ten or
twenty years that it's safer to let the car drive itself than give the keys
to our teenagers:
   "GM: Self Driving cars on the road in 10 years"
http://senseofevents.blogspot.com/2008/01/gm-self-driving-cars-on-road-in-10.html
"""

I also list there how a various occupations are already being automated and
are likely to disappear in the next couple of decades, like: Check out
clerk, Cab driver, Heart Surgeon, Airline pilot, Nurse, Entertainer,
Athlete, Migrant agricultural laborer, Librarian, Artist, Designer, and
Miner. I could probably list more, but that seems long enough to make the
point. What will a student in kindergarten today be expected to do for a
profession in twenty years if they need to compete with robots and other
automation to make a living? This isn't like in the 1920s when "buggy whip"
manufacturers were closing down, or like in the 1950s when the profession of
"picture tinters" were going away. Back then, there were lots of jobs to go
to. Right now, between a previous bailout to the car companies to shift to
alternative vehicles, and the current bailout proposal, the US Congress will
be handing over about US$50 billion to automotive companies so they will
*only* cut about one third of their jobs (assuming GM's stated plans are
similar to the other's unstated ones). Again, the US is giving out tens of
billions of dollars so only one-third the total jobs will be cut, instead of
all of them. Frankly, those jobs are not coming back anytime soon. While it
is true that millions of green jobs can be created, many, many millions, and
should IMHO, even that will not match the job losses from exponentially
developing automation. Just as one example, this somewhat charitably funded
think-tank is already making great progress on robots that can work around
humans:
   http://www.willowgarage.com/
While plumbers may hold on the longest, by 2040, we'll probably see even
household robot plumbers. Of course, we may not need them if we were to
redesign plumbing to be easier to maintain -- but even then, the job goes
away. In a similar way, if you look at the video of Amory Lovins' plan to
revitalized the US automotive industry here, he outlines snap-together car
bodies. So, those jobs are going, going, gone. And except for the "Triple
Revolution" issues related to the politics of distributing wealth, we are
all better for those jobs being gone, because there are plenty of things
people prefer to do, whether study math or nature or raise children or play
music or swim and so on, including building software and robots, just for
the fun of it.

Anyway, that's the elephant in the living room, when you extrapolate from
Guido's observation. :-)

So why should kids learn programming and advanced computer use?
* Fun.
* A gateway to more fun in science and engineering.
* A way to make sure the robots are friendly (or at least, enough of the
dumber ones are reasonably obedient).
* A way to have confidence in an ability to interact and control the future
world they will live in (ala, Computer Programming for Everybody).

All the best to everyone here. I will now go back to lurking. :-)

--Paul Fernhout
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Re: Programming in High School

kirby urner-4
I like "schoolish math", will plan to recycle that.

As for the rest of it, trademark Paul F. in being so verbose, will
leave it to other analysts to summarize it for me this time.  Good
seein' ya Paul.

For those wishing to lurk on my "inner doings" (acting locally in
Portland), I refer you to this URL:

http://mail.python.org/pipermail/portland/2008-December/000524.html

(my public regrets to a big party tonight, Python and other groups,
keeping Portland spirit alive...)

Kirby
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Re: Programming in High School

David MacQuigg
In reply to this post by Vern Ceder
At 02:37 PM 12/8/2008 -0500, Vern Ceder wrote:

>... here are the reasons I see that more
>schools don't offer programming:
>
>1) Lack of qualified staff. Sadly a graduate with a teaching certificate
>(as required by the state) usually doesn't have anything like the
>background to teach programming, let alone do the sorts of things that
>Kirby has experimented with.

What we need then, is not programming teachers, but teachers who are enthusiastic about technology, and use programming as a tool.  I would think any teacher of math or science would have no difficulty using Python and integrating it into their teaching.  Don't teach it as a separate subject, but introduce each new statement as it is needed.  For-loops, as an example, could be introduced as a tool to plot functions.  The, when the students are comfortable with that (and if there is time), show them a whole new and more general way of looking at for-loops (for item in collection).

I remember taking a class in typing.  There was a lot of stuff on proper etiquette and formatting of business letters, and emphasis on speed and accuracy, but it was one of the most valuable classes I ever took.  Do they still have something like that, maybe a business skills class?

Python has a special role here, in that it doesn't require a big, focused effort, as would Java.

>2) Numbers - at my school, 6-10 kids in AP Programming is considered a
>good year. In the public schools around town, in a short-sighted drive
>for efficiency, (but see item 1 above also) administration routinely
>kills any elective that can't get 3 times that.
>
>3) The whole "integration" trend in tech in education - 15 years ago it
>was assumed that as technology became ubiquitous we wouldn't have to
>teach it, any more than you need to know about electricity to turn on a
>light. Of course, that analogy was bogus on both ends, but schools have
>moved in that direction anyway, killing what little programming they did
>have. Only now (and only very slowly) are they realizing that their
>students are the poorer for it.

This fits with Paul's theme that we don't need programmers because it will all be done for us, or Guido's that only the best students should study programming.  I was once asked by a shop teacher why I am still doing programming.  Aren't all the programs already written?

We need lots of examples where programming is useful to non-programmers.  I already mentioned the real estate agent needing to digest some data from the property appraisers office.  For the shop teacher: How about a homeowner wanting to lay tiles, avoid wastage, and slivers that look bad along the edge.  If you know Python, it is quicker to write a little program than find one, purchase and install it, read the manual, struggle with a bunch of stuff you don't really need, and maybe not get what you want in the end.  I can think of lots of examples in engineering, but they are not ordinary problems that would seem relevant to high school students.  What we need is a collection of relevant problems, easily solved with a quickie program.

>These factors (and others of course) combined with the many layers of
>bureaucracy create a negative feedback loop that is next to impossible
>for students, teachers or even parents to beat. In fact, I've talked to
>state education officials that nearly despair of making any headway in
>some of our schools.

I would think the Federal government could play a positive role in encouraging modernization of our curricula.  Are there any proposals for the new administration?  I'm thinking of an effort similar to what the Internet Security Alliance is now making in the area of infrastructure for a more secure computing environment.  There is a whole new enthusiasm replacing the despair of the last few years.


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Re: Programming in High School

David MacQuigg
In reply to this post by David MacQuigg

>We need lots of examples where programming is useful to non-programmers.  I already mentioned the real estate agent needing to digest some data from the property appraisers office.  For the shop teacher: How about a homeowner wanting to lay tiles, avoid wastage, and slivers that look bad along the edge.  If you know Python, it is quicker to write a little program than find one, purchase and install it, read the manual, struggle with a bunch of stuff you don't really need, and maybe not get what you want in the end.  I can think of lots of examples in engineering, but they are not ordinary problems that would seem relevant to high school students.  What we need is a collection of relevant problems, easily solved with a quickie program.

Here is another suggestion:  How about a program to predict stock prices?  We'll need maybe 1000 traders, each responding to a dozen random external events.  That will gives us a simple random walk around the mean.  Now let's make it more interesting.  Give each trader a "herding tendency" making it follow more closely what its nearest neighbors are doing.  Turn up the "herding coefficient" and watch how it makes the market more erratic, ultimately turning random walk into boom and bust.


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Re: Programming in High School

Vern Ceder


David MacQuigg wrote:
> Here is another suggestion:  How about a program to predict stock
> prices?  We'll need maybe 1000 traders, each responding to a dozen
> random external events.  That will gives us a simple random walk
> around the mean.  Now let's make it more interesting.  Give each
> trader a "herding tendency" making it follow more closely what its
> nearest neighbors are doing.  Turn up the "herding coefficient" and
> watch how it makes the market more erratic, ultimately turning random
> walk into boom and bust.

I love this idea... It would take either a certain skill level (raw
beginners might not be able to handle it) or some scaffolding to work,
but it's a great idea. If someone has the time to work up a sample
version, I'd love to see it. (Unfortunately, at the moment I don't have
that time myself.)

Cheers,
Vern
--
This time for sure!
    -Bullwinkle J. Moose
-----------------------------
Vern Ceder, Director of Technology
Canterbury School, 3210 Smith Road, Ft Wayne, IN 46804
[hidden email]; 260-436-0746; FAX: 260-436-5137
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Re: Programming in High School

Warren Sande-2
In reply to this post by David MacQuigg
Sounds like you are trying to use chaos theory to predict the stock market.  I imagine that's been tried.  (Maybe it worked, and the programmers are keeping it to themselves and quietly becoming gazillionaires...)


From: David MacQuigg <[hidden email]>
To: "[hidden email]" <[hidden email]>
Sent: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 8:08:42 AM
Subject: Re: [Edu-sig] Programming in High School


>We need lots of examples where programming is useful to non-programmers.  I already mentioned the real estate agent needing to digest some data from the property appraisers office.  For the shop teacher: How about a homeowner wanting to lay tiles, avoid wastage, and slivers that look bad along the edge.  If you know Python, it is quicker to write a little program than find one, purchase and install it, read the manual, struggle with a bunch of stuff you don't really need, and maybe not get what you want in the end.  I can think of lots of examples in engineering, but they are not ordinary problems that would seem relevant to high school students.  What we need is a collection of relevant problems, easily solved with a quickie program.

Here is another suggestion:  How about a program to predict stock prices?  We'll need maybe 1000 traders, each responding to a dozen random external events.  That will gives us a simple random walk around the mean.  Now let's make it more interesting.  Give each trader a "herding tendency" making it follow more closely what its nearest neighbors are doing.  Turn up the "herding coefficient" and watch how it makes the market more erratic, ultimately turning random walk into boom and bust.


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