some success

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some success

michel paul-2
The first homework assignment in my math classes this year was to download and install Python.  I've been using it most extensively in my FST (Functions Statistics Trig) class.  The curriculum starts with sigma notation, so I showed them list comprehension syntax.  All it requires is knowing how to create an algebraic expression, some understanding of range(), and some understanding of 'for' and 'in'.  Really quite reasonable.  The reactions have been mixed.  Some kids were really apprehensive and complained to the principal.  He emailed me, and I responded saying they should come see me.  I figured that they were mistakenly assuming that they were responsible for understanding everything I had been showing them on the first couple of days, and I was right.  That stuff was just to present an overview.  Some kids really were intrigued by Python, and they asked questions like 'how many digits of pi can it show?'  I was anticipating that, so I had a spigot algorithm on hand, and we generated thousands of digits of pi!  It was great, but some of these over-achievers think they're supposed to regurgitate everything they see happen in class.  After all, their only real concern is their GPA.  This kind of attitude has ruined education.  Anyway, having a few one-on-one sessions cleared things up.  I showed them that all they really had to know was very little.  The other stuff was just for fun.  So they were OK with that.  Some of the kids are still apprehensive, but others are enthusiastic. 

One day a new kid signed in, and during class I had volunteers come up to the computer to enter their expressions in Python.  After class I asked the kid if what we were doing made any sense, and he was beaming.  He said yes, and he couldn't wait to get home to download Python.  That was very encouraging.

What I want the kids and colleagues and administration to understand is that this is not something on top of the algebra, this IS algebra!  It's algebra that RUNS.  It's 21st century algebra.

Some are getting it, and I'm glad to see that.  But many still don't.  Unfortunately, these others aren't just students.

It's a weird balance.  It splits in weird ways through the groups of students, colleagues, administrators.

- Michel

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Re: some success

kirby urner-4
2008/9/12 michel paul <[hidden email]>:

<< SNIP >>

> What I want the kids and colleagues and administration to understand is that
> this is not something on top of the algebra, this IS algebra!  It's algebra
> that RUNS.  It's 21st century algebra.
>
> Some are getting it, and I'm glad to see that.  But many still don't.
> Unfortunately, these others aren't just students.
>
> It's a weird balance.  It splits in weird ways through the groups of
> students, colleagues, administrators.
>
> - Michel

Great work Michel, you're definitely on the frontier.

Future shock may be shocking sometimes, however these students will
have more opportunities than their peers down the road.

Also, some students are apprehensive no matter what, even with only
traditional pre-computer stuff happening i.e. there's always
performance anxiety (in my experience anyway), goes with the territory
(or learning new things).

I look forward to more reports from the field.

Kirby
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Re: some success

David MacQuigg
In reply to this post by michel paul-2
At 10:29 PM 9/12/2008 -0700, michel paul wrote:

>The first homework assignment in my math classes this year was to download and install Python.  I've been using it most extensively in my FST (Functions Statistics Trig) class.

Sounds like the same class I took as a high school Junior in 1963.  It was all pretty new at the time, right after a major revision in the curriculum.  We need another Sputnik!!!

>After class I asked the kid if what we were doing made any sense, and he was beaming.  He said yes, and he couldn't wait to get home to download Python.  That was very encouraging.

I remember laboriously making a plot of sin(x) on a large sheet of graph paper, using values from tables in a big book.  This wasn't an assignment.  I just enjoyed doing it.  I remember thinking - where do sine waves come from?  Do generators really make sine waves?  Seems like parabolas would be simpler.

If only I could have applied that energy and enthusiasm to learning the fundamentals of computing ...  Instead my introduction to computing a few years later was truly awful.  It wasn't considered a subject worthy of study at Caltech.  Now after a long career in engineering, I'm learning some basic computer science by helping with classes at U of A.

>What I want the kids and colleagues and administration to understand is that this is not something on top of the algebra, this IS algebra!  It's algebra that RUNS.  It's 21st century algebra.

I like your presentation of list comprehensions as set notation.  It helped me see the utility of the syntax, and appreciate its compactness.  I was thinking of list comprehensions as just another twist I had to learn to read other people's programs.  Now when I see one, I don't have to parse it in my mind to understand it, and I use them all the time.

This also seems like a good way to squeeze some computing into an otherwise orthodox curriculum.  It's just a tool for doing algebra, not a frontal assault on the status quo.  If Python gets a foothold at U of A, it will likely be just a tool to do some simulations in an advanced networking class.  Learning Python is easier than learning OPNET.  Oh, and by the way, it's not just a network simulation language.  It's useful in just about everything you will do involving computation!

Keep up the good work!


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