It’s been a long haul

Especially for those of us who have been in it for said haul.

Just to date myself, I learned how to program via punched and mark sense cards. A program wan’t just as assembly of instructions or blocks; it was an assembly of these cards. Debugging was much more of a challenge. Not only did you have to find whatever bug was causing you grief but then you had to create a new card (or erase the coded in bubble) and then replace the one causing you problem in the deck. There was a great deal of pressure to get it right the first time through to avoid this process.

Of course, things changed; I ended up taking courses with terminals (yay, no cards) and then the personal home computer revolution came along. This really was a change in things. From my first TRS-80 computer to Windows PCs, I’ve written programs on them all. You really had to know your machine and I’ve often said that these were the last times that I really understood computers.

A big change was coming with the concept of windows running on a computer. Originally from the XEROX Parc, the whole notion of user interface being more than just text on a screen really took off. As we know, Apple was the first to adopt this. It was about this time that knowing all the ins and outs of a computer became less important. In fact, the way that things were tightly controlled led to comments like:

A Macintosh is a computer with training wheels that don’t come off

But usability and functionality really took off and Microsoft followed with its own take of a windowed environment. It’s a far cry from today; it was more like text occupying its own window that you could resize. Windows 1 seems so distant from Windows 10 of today.

For a step back in time, I enjoyed this video. It’s claim is that it’s the first “Hello World” program for Windows.

If you’re a programmer, you know that “Hello World” programs are the ultimate proof of concept that you could write and then run a program in whatever language you’re using.

This little video brought back so many memories including the one big advantage that Microsoft had over Apple. You could have coloured windows. Sadly, I remember using this colour combination at one point. Maybe it wasn’t such a big advantage after all. Colours in windows today is a little more subdued and Apple continues with its plain jane windows frames.

35 years seems like an eternity and it is in the computer world.

But, with all of our love for nostalgia, I can’t see anyone ever longing for a return to this world.

A lot about prime

Fact: All teachers of mathematics will have taught about prime numbers at some time. A lot of teachers of computer science will have assigned the problem of determining whether or not a number input is prime or not.

It’s a relatively straight forward concept. A number is prime if:


So, just about every positive number is either prime or composite.

The site has just about everything you’d ever want to know about Prime Numbers in one spot, as well as a way to test to see if any number is prime.

All of this is accessible via the menu on the landing site.

I’ve long known about prime numbers. It’s just one of those things that you learn early in school and it sticks with you. It’s also a nice time waster to start with 3 and see how far you can go in your head, picking off prime numbers.

From a computer science perspective, it really is an interesting concept. The mathematics is so simple and you can introduce/reinforce many programming concepts by writing a program or two. Integer division, remainders, test for valid input, etc.

Yes, these are slow times so I did write a couple of programs here just for old times sake.

Oh, and there is one positive number that isn’t prime. This page catches it nicely and so should your program, if you elect to write one.

Finding open resources

I found this resource courtesy of Stephen Downes’ OLDaily. It really struck me as unique, wonderful, and potentially very useful at the same time.

The Open Syllabus Explorer claims to map college courses with over 6 million syllabi.

I know that there are some college and university instructors that read this blog and I would encourage them to take a look at what’s available and might be helpful to them.

My focus is in K-12. In this case, it’s Computer Studies.

One of the powerful mailing lists that I follows comes from ACSE where Ontario Computer Studies teachers are sharing resources, asking for assistance, and looking for inspiration.

Teaching Computer Science is kind of an oddity. Unlike many courses where you just buy a textbook for student use, there aren’t that many textbooks for Computer Science teachers, particularly in 10-12. It’s a bit different if you’re teaching the Advanced Placement courses but for the regular Ontario courses, finding a textbook is incredibly difficult. Personally, I never used one.

Instead, I was always making up my own resources. They probably weren’t generic enough for others to use them but I felt they met my needs and the local interests of students. As such, I was always looking for new resources and ideas. It was always a hoot to find a new problem and work through it with students.

So, why college resources? There’s another dimension to all this. Sadly, not all students see the light and take Computer Science courses until they get to college / university. As a result, at post-secondary, there are often introductory courses. The ideas and inspirations there can be used as well.

I took a look and a search for a very popular programming language – Python. There are lots of filters to narrow your search if needed.

And the list goes on. Now, individual teachers would have to take a look for resources and test them for suitability but it’s a giant start beyond having nothing to work with.

At the least, you owe it yourself to check this resource out.

Names, and more names

First off …

Today marks a day of rotating strike action by ETFO members in the following districts:

  • Kawartha Pine Ridge
  • Hastings-Prince Edward
  • Upper Grand
  • Moosonee
  • Moose Factory

Details here.

I had a great deal of fun with this:

Guessing Names Based on What They Start With

So, it looks like the program is 32% confident that my parents named me Douglas. But, it’s a little over 40% sure that it might have been Donald. Well, I was kind of impressed because my parents did name my younger brother Donald.

The input is pretty simple; choose your gender, your birth decade, and then a few letters from your first name and see the results. As the author notes, the data is from US sources which is close enough for me for the entertainment value. And maybe statistics in the classroom.

As I was playing, the programmer in me thought “this can’t be that difficult to write – all you need is the data”. So, I did some internet searching.

This was interesting but wasn’t quite easy enough to work with.

Then, I found this resource. Admittedly, this is from an American source but it’s perfect to work with names by decade. I was able to easily create some data files and write the code to interact with it. So, there’s my tip to Computer Science teachers for today. I love coming up with new ideas to do some coding with.

Oh, and just to settle something for people that do know me. I wasn’t born in the 1970s but if the Internet wants some fake news, go for it.

Come back a magician

Who’s planning back to school routines already?


OK, then just bookmark this for later.

There’s nothing quite so nice as to be astonishing in the classroom. Here’s a good one and you can finally put the smartphone to good use.

Tell your students to type a three digit number on their phone calculator. You are going to guess each and every one of their numbers.

Tell them to multiply that number by 9191.

They now tell you the last three digits of their calculator’s display.

You somehow, mysteriously, tell them the number they started with!

If you’d like Mathematics to come across as magic!

Details about how it’s done (and a chance to dig into the Mathematics) is located here on Quora. Just make sure that you present it with flourish.

Now, I know that Computer Science teachers are looking at this and saying “This is a wonderful exercise to program a solution for!”

Of course, this is also an opportunity to add flourish into the program too.

Don’t just stop with the top story … read on … there are some other great Mathematics examples to try.