That’s nifty


I have to give a shout out to Alfred Thompson and his blog post from earlier this month.  He was sharing his thoughts about how to create problems for solution in the Computer Science classroom.

If you follow some of the simple stuff online, you might think that the goal is to get a robot to draw a square or something.  It’s an OK place to start but the study of Computer Science goes much deeper.

If you use a textbook in Computer Science (if you can find one that meshes nicely with your program, that is…), you’ll find that the problems offered don’t go that deeply into the discipline.  Consequently, Computer Science teachers are constantly looking for interesting and challenging problems to assign for student solution.  In many ways, it can be the ultimate in personalization as you search for things to match not only the curriculum you’re covering but that are engaging for students.  You know when you’ve hit a good one when students spend so much time coming up with elegant solutions and then are willing to discuss with you how they did it.

Alfred’s post was “Designing Projects for Programming Students“.  Embedded in the post was a link to the SIGCSE collection of “Nifty Assignments“.

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Now, this won’t be your first selection for students starting to cut their teeth in Computer Science.  These are problems that are pretty meaty.  Even if they don’t lend themselves to creating a program, they’re a good start for some interesting work with Computational Thinking.

Here’s an nifty problem to start with – rated middle school and up.

For the Ontario ICS courses, you just might inspiration for using the problems “off the rack” or with modification for your needs.  The collection goes back to 1999 so there’s a great deal of inspiration there.  Have at it.

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Learning about hurricanes


It’s been a rough couple of weeks for hurricanes.  It’s been the lead story for so many news programs and the pictures have been non-stop showing us the worst of what can happen.

These things can be the lead to some terrific learning opportunities in the classroom.  You won’t find the real details about what makes for a bad hurricane on the news through.  You have to dig a little deeper.  Here are a couple of sources.

Create-a-Cane

From the National Hurricane centre, a tool that lets you investigate the conditions that are necessary to create such a storm.  Inside the simulator, click on the various controls to customize your hurricane.  Can you make an 80?

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Atlantic Hurricane Simulator

This, I really like – for a number of reasons.

First of all, it is very graphic in nature as you would expect in any project of this type.

Secondly, like any simulator, you can adjust the controls to see where your hurricane will go.

Thirdly, it’s written in Scratch.  That demonstrates that you can do serious stuff with Scratch.  And, of course, since it’s open, you can “Look inside” to see what makes it tick.  There’s so much to learn from reading code.  And, of course(2), you can remix the original to make your own simulator.

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In the big computer technology deal, here’s a chance to “do different things”, enabled by your helpful technology.

And, even if you or your students don’t have a Florida connection, don’t forget that it can happen here.  Hurricane Hazel

Think Omaha


Here’s your invitation to join hundreds of computer science educators at the annual CSTA Conference.  The conference moves all over the place and the summer of 2018 sees it in Omaha, Nebraska.

The conference offers something for every educator, elementary school, secondary school, and post secondary school.

Look for the call for proposals to be posted soon.  I’ll post the information here.

Information for the conference will be available here.


CSTA will be bringing its world class professional development and educator community together again in July of 2018. We are excited to offer teachers of Computer Science the opportunity to build skills, meet other teachers, and get inspired!

We are happy to announce that the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (NICERC) will again be joining us for the conference and offering their Education Discovery Forum immediately following the CSTA conference on July 10 – 12. To find out more about EDF: Omaha click here.

Want to learn more about what Omaha has to offer? Click here.

This family-friendly location is easy to navigate and offers our attendees world-class attractions, dining, and of course, professional development for teachers of computer science. Want to know more? Click here for a fact sheet on Omaha.

Want to know more about the Silicon Prairie? Click here.

 

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Welcome to another edition of This Week in Ontario Edublogs.  It’s a chance for me to take a tour of the province and see what’s happening with Ontario Edubloggers.

Here’s some good reading for you.


All Moved In

There have been a number of people blogging about getting in to their classrooms and getting things set up for September.  This can be a challenge over the summer as it’s the only time that the caretakers within the school have uninterrupted access for maintenance and cleaning.

Jennifer Aston’s move may be a little different than most.  Most people are back in the same classroom; some move down the hall; and some move schools.  In her case, she was an instructional coach for a few years so all of her “stuff” was stored in a basement and then moved to her classroom.  For teachers who supplement what the board/school provides with purchases of their own (most teachers do this), this can be a big task.

Then, there’s the technology, including equipment purchased via a TLLP grant.

It sounds like she’s going to put into practice some of what she learned as a coach with flexible classroom design.  Go ahead and read her thoughts and don’t overlook the wisdom of those who commented and lent their advice to her planning.


I’VE GOT THAT “BACK TO SCHOOL” FEELING

So, Ramona Meharg is on the same train, speeding towards September 5.  While it doesn’t apply to me any more, her description of the difference between July and August in terms of teacher attitude and the climate is spot on.  Nothing says the end of summer more than the continuous drone of crickets!

Her post reaches out to us at a sensory level.  Only a teacher can recognize and find glory in the smell of a new book or the feel of a brand new pen.  This hit a note with me.  I always used a very nice Waterman pen for my work and had a tradition of replacing the lead and the ink cartridges before every new school year.

In all of this, is one of the real niceties of teaching.  You get a chance to start over with a clean slate or nearly clean slate every year.  With that, you get new resources, more professional with another year of learning and professional development, …  And, if you’re on the lower end of the salary grid, a raise!

That’s all part of the back to school deal.  Add to that the sleepless night before classes, the feeling that you’re not prepared, and the well-prepared classroom.  There’s not an educator in the province that’s not going through all this.  Ramona has written all about it.  You’ll enjoy reading this post.


WILL AI DESTROY OUR RELATIONSHIPS?

I’m fascinated with the concepts of Artificial Intelligence and I know that Jane Mitchinson is generally on top of things.  I always enjoy watching what she’s showing and sharing.

In this post, she was inspired by a TED talk and the connections and insights into health care.

I was intrigued by her discussion about memory.  We all lose things that we promised ourselves that we’d never forget.  If you’ve got a family member or other connection suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, you know how this can really run to an extreme.

So, at first blush, helping people with this horrible disease sounds like a terrific thing.

But, is it?  Perhaps selective forgetting is a good thing.  I never really thought about this before reading Jane’s post and read her thoughts.


What We Learned From So Far… BYOD Pilot

I really appreciate the openness and sharing that the folks at Fleming College are following as they learn.  They’re also quick to see and report on all sides of an issue.

I’ve seen so many people talk about BYOD on such a cursory level that it’s almost like an infomercial.

“Oh, we’re a BYOD school.  Kids bring their devices and magic happens.”

Actually, if it’s true and you’re experiencing the magic and it’s all that you planned, more power to you.  I suspect thought that you might be overstating things just a bit.

Alana Callan shares her thoughts and insights about this happening at Fleming with staff.

I really think that, of the goals that she includes, this one is key.

Showcase what BYOD could look like in the classroom by getting them to be the students and participating in the activities

What, indeed, does it look like?  I like the fact that she uses the term “could look like”.  As we know, you’re mileage may vary.  In the BYOD world, it definitely will.

Make sure that you read the entire post.  There’s a spot where they brainstorm web resources that you’ll find very valuable.


Accountable Assessment

I really enjoyed reading about this concept but was challenged to find out who the actual author is that claims to be the “Dean of Math”.  Using every trick I know, I came to the conclusion that she’s a teacher in Markham named Melissa D.

Back to the post.

There’s been a lot mentioned over the years about gradeless classrooms.  Personally, I think it makes so much sense.  In Computer Science, for example, what’s the difference between a program worth 87% and one worth 88%.  If I can’t tell you, then they’re both worth 88%, right?

The challenge becomes more of a technical one for Melissa.  How do you record an assessment in a class without grades?

If you’ve been pondering this, you’ll enjoy her post.  If you have any ideas or suggestions, then add them to the post as comments.


Learner, Know Yourself, Know Your Strengths, Know Your Weaknesses

Matthew Oldridge really nails the concept of reflection in this post.  He brings in the work from Starr Stackstein.

The big takeaway here is to treat reflection as an integral part of the assessment and NOT just an add-on.

I like the collection of tips that Matthew closes the post with.  In particular, he offers a short list of tools.

like Google forms, Exit Slips, conferencing

Just as we would provide a variety of teaching strategies, why wouldn’t you have an inventory of these tools and mix them up, depending upon the task and time, so that it’s not just “reflection time” with the same old tool.

Perhaps we could encourage Matthew to write a post or series of posts and create a visible inventory of these tools.  Having a wide variety would increase the value of the concept and the interest buy-in by students.


Interviews

It never rains but it pours!  That’s the mantra here.  I was fortunate enough to have two interviews come to fruition on this blog this week.

An Interview with Lisa Floyd

  • Enjoy Lisa’s thoughts about Computational Thinking, parenting, and a trip to Baltimore

An Interview with Paul McGuire

  • Get inside the head of this recently retired principal who definitely isn’t letting grass grow under his feet in his retirement

Please take the time to click through and enjoy these wonderful blog posts.  You’ll be glad that you.  Hopefully, they’ll get you thinking.

Until next week…

An Interview with Lisa Floyd


lisaLisa Floyd is a Mathematics and Computer Science teacher with the Thames Valley District School Board.  Currently on leave, she is Director of Research and Inquiry for Fair Chance Learning and an adjunct professor at Western University teaching Computational Thinking to Teacher Candidates.

I had the opportunity to interview Lisa for this blog and got to find out a little more about her passions for family, education, Mathematics, Computer Science, and Computational Thinking.

Doug:  My first question is always this.  Where did we first meet face to face?

Lisa:  It’s strange. I believe it was at CSTA in Baltimore recently, but because I’ve followed your blog and have heard about the inspiring work you’re involved with, I felt like I had already met you.  I know you’re an inspiration to many educators, including those who you’ve taught at the University of Windsor.

Doug:  And what were you doing in Baltimore?

Lisa: I was attending the conference with my husband Steve, who was the sole Canadian receiving an award for excellence in teaching computer science (#proudwife)..

Steve

Doug:  I’ll admit that I was so surprised to see your father-in-law there.  He and I have a long history in the educational technology field in Western Ontario.  It was great to have a little chat with him to catch up.  We covered a few years in minutes.  He’s a very proud grandfather.

For those in the field of Computer Science, there most certainly was something there for everyone.  What were your takeaways from the Computer Science Teachers Association conference?

Lisa:  For me, it was just so wonderful to connect with like-minded individuals who have a passion for Computational Thinking (CT).  I was able to meet a few people face-to-face, including Todd Lash who is doing interesting research on CT for his PhD and Grant Smith of LaunchCS (@LaunchCompSci), who I had connected online with previously about coding. They are doing some inspiring work with CT and I was able to attend their sessions too!  I was also excited to meet Miles Berry in person and attend his wonderful presentation (here’s a pic)

MilesandLisa

It was great to speak to Hal Speed from the micro:bit Foundation and to hear of his journey into the education space!

Doug:  One of the big and important issues of the day is getting women involved in Computer Science and other areas of technology.  What drew you into this field strongly enough for you to decide to make it your profession?

Lisa: My first teaching job included a line of computer science and I fell in love with the subject and teaching it even more.  I spent hours and hours learning how to program and loved the challenge and the thinking involved. I felt like I had found a best kept secret subject to teach.  I continued teaching computer science for 14 years and made sure that I was properly preparing my grade 12 students by taking computer science university courses at Western in the evening.  I noticed something special in my own students when they were programming a computer together and I never stopped teaching it! Thankfully, my husband was also teaching it so we could bounce ideas off each other.

Encouraging young women to take high school computer science has been a personal initiative of mine.  Even with a female as their computer science teacher, I only had one to two girls in each of my computer science classes and this is consistent across Ontario and even around the world.  I believe that we need to expose girls to computer science at a younger age so that they won’t be as intimidated to take it as an elective in high school.  Since doing outreach, the computer science classes I had been teaching at the high school I’m on a leave from has grown 5 x.   Girls also need more female role models, and so having the girls who are taking computer science volunteer at elementary schools also makes a big difference.

Doug:  One of the remarkable things about Computer Science courses is the high student success rate.  Have you noticed the same thing with your classes?  Any theories why?

Lisa: Yes!  The success rate is high… I believe it’s partly because of the choice students have when creating programs and they are motivated to complete their work due to the immediate feedback and the opportunity to create authentic and meaningful projects.  Given the nature of computer science, I was able to provide ongoing formative feedback on a daily basis.  The low floor and high ceiling attribute of computer programming that Seymour Papert describes is also helpful… every student is challenged. It’s what he calls, “hard fun”.

Doug:  Do you have a preference for educational programming languages?

Lisa:  I try not to get hung up on languages… if students really want to learn another language, different from what we are doing in class, I don’t mind.  I used Turing for years, and loved it because it is a learning language. It’s about the big ideas and thinking involved and all programming languages have the same programming constructs…there’s just varying degrees of syntax that might make for some languages to be more challenging than others to learn.  My approach is to not solely focus on those students who will be pursuing computer science in college or university, but to support every student with understanding how programming works.  More recently, I’ve used Python, Visual Basic and Java.  I also used Arduino when we brought in the microcontrollers (great for more hands-on work).  In the outreach that I do for elementary students, I prefer Scratch.

Doug:  That’s a nice collection of contemporary programming languages.  You can’t miss with any of them.

There has been much interest in the area of Computational Thinking in the past few years.  What it actually means differs from person to person.  What does Computational Thinking mean to you?

Lisa: I’ve done a lot of research on Computational Thinking and I’ve also noticed the varying definitions even among experts.  To me, it’s a special way of thinking that includes an array of components – pattern recognition, decomposition, abstraction and iteration.  It helps students to effectively approach problems in all subject areas, but coding is a great context for developing Computational Thinking skills.  For anyone looking to learn more about Computational Thinking, especially as it may support math learning, I encourage them to consider attending the Symposium on Computational Thinking in Mathematics Education on October 13-15th, 2017 at UOIT.  This Symposium is sponsored by the Fields Institute for Research in the Mathematical Sciences (Fields); University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), Faculty of Education, and the SSHRC partnership development grant on Computational Thinking in Mathematics Education (ctmath.ca). The symposium is also supported by the Mathematics Knowledge Network, NSERC, and Ontario Ministry of Education.  You can register here.

Doug:  At Western University, you focus entirely on Computational Thinking with Teacher Candidates. What does your program look like?  What do these students leave with as a result of being in your classes?

Lisa:  I have taught two courses at Western – one for all primary/junior teacher candidates, called ‘Computational Thinking in Mathematics Education’.  We focused on using coding to enhance understanding of math ideas.  The Computational Thinking piece was integrated into the math learning. We used a lot of the ideas developed by Dr. George Gadanidis (researchideas.ca).  The other course I have taught is part of the STEM cohort for intermediate/senior math and science education teacher candidates.  We tried out coding and digital making activities that they could use with their math and science high school students.  Most students felt nervous about the course at the beginning, but by the end they appreciated looking at math from a different perspective.  For the P/J teacher candidates, we focused on developing their efficacy for math and Computational Thinking.  The program was a blended learning model, with half being online and half face-to-face.

Doug:  Is the program unique to Western or are other Faculties of Education offering the same or similar course?

Lisa:  It’s unique to Western, but there is a similar course at UOIT in their preservice program.

Doug:  Do you find Teacher Candidates generally prepared and ready to learn the principles?

Lisa: No… most come with little or no experience with coding.  I do a survey at the beginning and it’s usually close to 90% of the P/J teacher candidates who have done no coding.  We have to work a lot on mindset, and you can see the shift in this on the mind maps that were being co-created throughout the course.  It’s almost like we were causing a disruption in the approach to learning and teaching mathematics, and there is research that shows this might be what’s necessary to change the way math is taught to make it a more applicable, meaningful subject for our students.

Doug:  Does Social Media have an impact on your Teacher Candidates?  Are they ready for BYOD Classrooms, students with their own devices, and to amplify their voice and presence with social tools?

Lisa:  I find teacher candidates to be proficient with some technology such as computer and personal device use, and use them readily in class.  I was surprised at how few are on Twitter and tried to encourage them to explore it to develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and to stay on top of current trends in education.  I noticed they were active on SnapChat and they were often proudly “snapping” photos and videos of some of the programs they coded or the robotics they were programming.  They appreciated learning how their devices actually work and most were quite comfortable with the technology piece.  Some shared their learning publicly with others over social media and inspired pre-service and practicing teachers around the world.  One group joined our Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP)  #mathedcoders for their alternate placement and their ideas and work with students related to coding was shared widely.  At one point, they were doing a webinar for students and teachers in northern Ontario, thanks to Stacey Wallwin, who is an inspiring leader in educational technology in Superior Greenstone District School Board.

Doug:  I know that you have three wonderful children.  (Derek told me)  Is Computational Thinking and Computer Science a “thing” around the Floyd household?  If so, how?

Lisa:  I would say Computational Thinking is embedded in pretty much all of our daily routines and activities.  Steve and I have similar parenting styles.  Our children aren’t signed up for many activities, but sometimes our household seems like a makerspace.  We do have every robot and digital device imaginable, but our oldest two boys are mostly interested in playing minecraft together.  We do some coding, but try not to overdo it.  We really have no idea what we’re doing as parents, and are learning every day, but feel pretty confident in how we embed the Computational Thinking aspect (both intentionally and unintentionally).  Our oldest has attended some of our Fair Chance Learning events as a “helper” and Martha and Dustin Jez (co-founders) have been so supportive of this.

Doug:  I did have the chance to interview with Martha Jez.  You can read it here.

In addition to all this, you are the Director of Research & Inquiry at Fair Chance Learning.  That’s an exciting title.  What are the areas of your research?  Are they published anywhere?

Lisa:  I love my job.  I love doing research and am fortunate to work for a company that sees it as valuable.  Everything I prepare for professional learning and speaking gigs is based on research articles that I’ve read in some form.  I’m also an advocate for Inquiry-Based Learning and it’s been part of my practice since I first started teaching.

As part of my masters in math education (just completed the program last week!), I’ve been honoured to work as a research assistant for two professors of math education (Dr. Kotsopoulos formerly of Laurier, now at Huron University College) and Dr. Gadanidis.  I learned so much from this position and was excited to be a co-author for academic papers that have been published.  One is in the journal of Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education and is titled “Computational Thinking in Mathematics Teacher Education”.  Another is currently freely available online in the Journal of Digital Experience in Mathematics Education and is titled “A Pedagogical Framework for Computational Thinking”.  I learned so much during the process.  I am excited about some of the other papers I’m involved with and am grateful to professors who include me, including Dr. Julie Mueller of Laurier University. These researchers are a source of inspiration and it’s an honour to know them.

Doug:  As a result of your connections with Fair Chance Learning, you’ve hit the radar as a speaker, presenter, and keynote speaker.  What topics do you address?

Lisa:  I have the privilege to speak about Computational Thinking and coding and how I believe they can be implemented effectively in our classrooms.  It is important that students’ curiosity, empathy and creative thinking skills are also fostered in the process.  Kafai and Burke write about the idea of “Computational Participation” in their book Connected Code – Why Children Need to Learn Programming, and this to me, is the more modern view of CT, in which the collaboration and communication piece is also valued.  I talk about why we need to support our students with learning how to code in a world where we are immersed in technology.  Learning how to program helps our students to see the world in an entirely new way, as Douglas Rushkoff discusses in his book Program or be Programmed.  As Rushkoff also points out, If we don’t support our students with learning this skill, it’s possible they may not fully understand what’s going on in the world around them and begin to feel like the technology knows more about them than they know about technology. This may seem like an exaggeration, but read about Big Data, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, and it becomes clear that everyone should learn how programming works.  Of course, the thinking piece and problem solving skills that will help our students across all subject areas and fields is what I believe should be one of the main driving factors in our push to get students coding.  I’m in the process of working on my Keynote for the Bring IT, Together Conference right now:)

Doug:  That must be an exciting experience to prepare for.  After all, any connected Ontario educator worth their Twitter account will know all about @lisaannefloyd and will be excited to hear from one of their own.

Do you maintain a public list of places where you’ve spoken/presented?

Lisa: I do not, but you’ve inspired me to do so (working on it)… this interview is also reminding me to update my blog (thanks).

Doug:  It’s success on my end when I get another Ontario Educator to update her blog!

If someone was interesting in hiring you to speak, how would they contact you?

Lisa:  They are more than welcome to reach out to me by email at lisa@fairchancelearning.com or on Twitter (@lisaannefloyd).  I especially love facilitating professional learning related to Computational Thinking.

Doug:  Do you envision a time when Computational Thinking is just a concept that is universally embraced and we’ve moved on to something else?

Lisa:  I actually hope that we will continue to focus on Computational Thinking and that rather than move onto something else, we will instead explore it further, adjusting how we approach it and improving the ways we implement it.  There is still a lot of room for additional research on Computational Thinking and best pedagogical practice.

Doug:  Thank you so much for agreeing to share your thoughts with my readers, Lisa.  It’s always nice to be able to dig inside the professional practice of another Ontario Educator.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter at:  @lisaannefloyd

She maintains her blog CODING IDEAS FOR EDUCATORS at:  https://lisaannefloyd.com/

Over the life of this blog, I’ve had the opportunity to interview all kinds of amazing people and am happy to include Lisa on this list.

The list?  You can check out all the interviews here.  https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews/

The message we send


If you haven’t already, you should take a read of this article from the Globe and Mail.

Coding for kids: another silly fad

While at it, it’s worth following a couple of the links that link to supporting documents from consultants.

Then, you should stop and ask yourself “How could they get it so wrong?”

I would suggest that the reason lies with education.

I remember the advice given to me from a superintendent once.

“Not only do you need to understand why you do something, but you need to be able to completely explain it to someone else.”

In reading the article and the supporting documents, I think this is a perfect example of it.

Somewhere along the line, these people have got the impression that education is teaching coding for the sake of coding.  If that was true, then they might have a justifiable position.  I mean, how many times have we heard tripe like “Coding is a 21st Century Skill” or “We need to teach coding as a skill that will help our Grade 3 students get a job” and the conversation stops there.

As a Computer Science teacher, I get contact with former students who have indeed gone on in the industry and have been successful.  I’m quick to apologise for the primitive tools and programming languages that we had at the time.  They’ve all been equally as quick to respond that that wasn’t what mattered.  What truly mattered was the problem solving, the group work, the enthusiasm to see a project in progress and the excitement when it was done.

Of course, they’re right.

Put into today’s context, any teacher or other educational leader should definitely be challenged if their message is that coding with Scratch or other educational language will provide students with the programming skills to land a job.

Done properly, it should be so much more.

Let’s look at the messages that need to be sent when asked:

  • Coding will indeed be a factor in everyone’s life from the Internet of Things connected refrigerator to the Smartphone to your next car to the tools that you will be required to master for your job(s) to the most powerful computer.  A person who knows how to control these devices will be successful
  • Coding provides another important tool to help students succeed in the classroom with mathematics, story telling, safe science experiments, societal connections and issues from around the world, and so much more
  • Coding gives student authors the ability to add life to a blog post or article and truly use this new media to make it pop, not just a simple transference from paper to electronic text
  • Coding demonstrates first hand the power of collaboration, group work, research, trial and error, debugging, and so many other tools that we value in our graduates
  • And, yes, Coding lets a Grade 3 student write instructions on a computer to tell a connected robot to draw a pattern

If none of this resonates, then consider the opposite.  How successful will a student be in life and career without these skills?

Just recently, I’ve had a conversation with good friend Peter Skillen who reminds us that not only should all of us be “Learning to Code”, we should be “Coding to Learn”.  Ironically, I just happened to wear my 2011 Minds on Media T-Shirt yesterday and that advice was emblazoned on the back.

If you still need proof, you need to read or re-read Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or be Programmed.  The Study Guide will be helpful as well.

The Big Idea in all of this should be that we want students prepared to take charge of the technology that will be such an important part of their future.  Coding is one of the tools that will make this happen.

Let’s make sure that this is the message that people are hearing.

Birthdays


As a kid, I always liked the fact that my birthday was during the summer.  That way, I didn’t have to be the centre of a party in class and all that goes with it.  I’m not the type of person that enjoys that sort of thing.

Now, it’s kind of cool that social media knows my birthday and takes the opportunity to say “Happy Birthday”, and I appreciate that.

My quote of the year comes from my friend Tammy who had a T-Shirt with this on it.

2017-08-14_0932

If you don’t get it, have a gamer explain it to you.

Anyway, the concepts of birthdays gets really interesting when you turn to birthdays and mathematics.  There’s a very famous problem; the “Birthday Problem“.  It’s pretty heady stuff involving probability and so generally doesn’t appear in mathematics until a good background has been established.

But, it’s one of those things that let you discuss mathematics without necessarily writing a proof for the problem.  It boils down to the probability or chance that two or more people in a group will have the same birthday.

It’s also the stuff that Computer Science teachers love to give out as a problem.  You can work up to it.  For example, give a program your birthday and have it determine what day of the week you were born on (don’t forget leap years).  If you’re not up to writing the code, check this out.  Even if students aren’t ready to write the code, it’s the sort of activity that inspires thinking about how a computer might be programmed to solve the problem.

Back to the Birthday Problem.  It’s something that’s quite surprising in real life.  In our department of about 30, there were three of us who had the same date for a birthday (that I knew about).  It’s still surprising when you consider that there are 365 days in a year.  Surely, there’s enough elbow room there that there would be no duplicates!   It’s a reality for teachers.  In any class, there always seems to be students who share the same birthday.  Even more interesting, because of sample size, they share the same birth year!  Stepping back, you see it again if you’re trying to ride herd on a homeroom during morning announcements which always seem to include a long list of Happy Birthday wishes.  In a school with 1,200 students, it only seems reasonable that there might be three.  That never seemed to work out!

The mathematics behind the Birthday Problem is interesting.  You can read the details here.  Or even here.  I can recall having one of those off-the-cuff discussions with a student about it and he thought that he’d write a program to simulate it.  Neil, if you’re reading this, did you ever finish it?

If not, here are a couple of online efforts …