Coding for Young Mathematicians


I summarized my thoughts about Lisa Floyd’s presentation at the Bring IT, Together Conference like this.

Calculators are successful in Mathematics not because we learn how to write the code to create a calculator but because we use it to get a deeper understanding of non-trivial Mathematics

When I saw this in the program, I knew that I wanted to attend. Lisa has been doing a great deal of research into Mathematics and Computational Thinking and was a keynote a few years ago. I didn’t know what to expect but I was hoping for something other than a “Let’s do something cool in Scratch and then try to tie it into Mathematics or some other subject area”.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I’ve attended many a session like I described above. I always enjoy them (despite the sarcasm) but I always wonder about the claims of how students all understand coding and Mathematics as a result. Is that really true?

I was hoping that this wouldn’t be another like that. Plus the fact that she mentioned Scratch AND Python was intriguing.

As she notes, “Ontario does not have coding in K-8”. Of course this is true but we sure have all kinds of Mathematics! She gave us a number of different examples featuring Geometric Art, Gtowing Patterns, Plotting on a Grid, Probability, … In the presentation, she gave us lots of examples and talked us through the process that she uses.

None of the examples started with a blank screen! She stressed the concept of having students remix her content. By running what she distributes, the students see a Mathematical concept and then their understanding is pushed and enhanced by working with the code to make things something better.

Her approach is very visual by showing the results of the program and then takes on the Mathematics concepts. Tweak this, change that, what happens when you do this? How can you make the output look like this. The primary focus was purely on the Mathematics and the coding was secondary. It was a refreshing approach.

Lisa’s approach was cemented for me on the Friday. I attended a session where we were programming robots using a drag and drop language specifically written for those robots. We were to program them to do a task without knowing just what was happening. Often the tool that we needed was in another menu and we were encouraged to try some numbers to see how far in one direction we could make it go. Turning wasn’t a matter of turning 90 degrees, but applying force onto one wheel going in one direction while the other went in the other direction. We eventually figured it out but lost considerable time in the process. There were something like six groups in the room and nobody got the right answer; some were closer than others. Lisa’s concept of remixing would have fit right in.

I really do like her approach. I made myself another note…

Instead of debugging the program, she could spend time debugging the Mathematics involved…

You can check out some of the examples she used, in Scratch, on her website. Type the URL correctly; Lisa notes that a person with a similar spelling as chosen a different career path.

I had an opportunity to interview Lisa. You can read it here.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


I almost did it again.  Instead of “This Week in Ontario Edublogs”, I started to type the title as “The Week in Ontario Edublogs”.  I’ve done it before and that’s why this post’s numbering doesn’t reflect the actual number of times I’ve written this post.  Sigh.  Let’s just say I’ve written it a lot.

And here’s what I was excited to read this week.


An Alternative To A School Cellphone Ban

After a bit of a dry spell, Andrew Campbell is back blogging.  What caught my eye about this post was that he claimed that the Premier made reference to it on social media.

As Andrew notes, this isn’t a problem that schools have created, it’s one that parents and students have brought into schools with them.  So, Andrew offers the simplistic solution – have parents make students keep the devices at home.

I suppose that such a simplistic approach is doable.  After all, there are other things that are not allowed in schools and there are heavy handed consequences for doing so.  The same could apply to cellphones.

I think back to my schooling and we actually had to purchase a sliderule for use in school.  One of the wealthier kids in the class came with an electronic calculator and was absolutely forbidden to use this device which gave exact answers in favour of using a device that approximated the answer.

Calculators were introduced with some folks screaming about the demise of civilization (at least the Mathematics part of it) and yet these devices are just taken for granted these days.

I suspect that years from now, people will look back and laugh at how we anguished over the issue of BYOD and bringing powerful and enabling devices into the classroom.  The issue they might be debating could be about whether reading about Einstein or interacting with a holograph is more educationally sound.


Back To The Map Of Canada: What Do You Do With That 2%?

This post from Aviva Dunsiger brought me back nightmares about quicky PD sessions given in staff meetings.  Often they’re about 15 minutes long, totally out of context for me at least and ultimately we wrote them off as filler.

As you read Aviva’s post, you can visualize her heart rate climbing as a result of anxiety.  I’m surprised that she didn’t bring in something to do with self-regulation.

Personally, I can recall such PD sessions where I got my colours done in that 15 minutes to tell me that my learning style was something other than what I thought.  Then, there was the time we all had to sing and, believe me, you don’t want to hear me sing.  After the meeting I approached the superintendent and offered to lead a session to have everyone create a program and was turned down.  I guess there are priorities.

It seems to me that doing something in a staff meeting with teachers from various grades and subject areas is actually a very hard task.  It needs to be generic enough to be meaningful enough to everyone and yet valuable enough to justify the time devoted to it.

Not an easy task.


This week we did…something

It’s the time of year for Progress Reports – the things that go home in advance of Report Cards.  There was a time when these were a quick glimpse about socialization and a status report on work habits.  Now, they’re substantially more than that.

This post from Lisa Corbett paints an interesting picture of the challenge of making something worthwhile at this time of year, given her approach to the teaching and learning done in her class so far.

Because of the work I’m doing to spiral in math this year I am feeling like I don’t have a lot of things to use for comments on progress reports. I’ve decided to focus my commenting on some of the mathematical process skills.

I think that, when you read it, you’ll empathize with her plight.

Perhaps for the Mathematics subject area, she could just put a link to this post in the student progress report and have the parents read what’s going on here.


Focus on Trees – Part One

Absolutely every now and again, it’s really important to take a look at the learning environment and that’s what Ann-Marie Kee does here.  In particular, she identifying various trees and their significance on her school property.

Could you do that?

I think to some of the new builds where a bulldozer comes in and flattens everything and a boxy school building appears.  A little later, perhaps some grass and a few trees as part of a planting or community partnership.

You’d never be able to say this with that approach.

I think of our trees as keepers of our culture.

And, I just have to include this.


Preserving the Cup

Skip to the end and Beth Lyons says it well.

But our educators can not pour from an empty cup.

One of the things that Beth has observed is that this year is a bit different from others.  She claims to be an optimist but is struggling to have optimistic thoughts these days.

She sees teachers stretched thin already.  Herself included.  And, it’s only October.

Who better than a teacher-librarian who has interactions with every staff member in the school to make that observation?

Is there a magic potion that can be taken to turn this around?  I think we all know that the answer is no.  I can’t help but wonder if the recent election hasn’t contributed heavily to this – we live in a time when positive messages take a back seat to the negative.  It has to take a toll.

Caring for others is important but Beth notes many times that it’s also important to take care of yourself.  It’s not being selfish.

We need to get beyond that.


100DaysofCode

Peter Beens is participating in very active pieces of personal learning.  Earlier this week, I noted that he was part of the WordCamp in the Niagara Region?  This is different.

When you click through, you’ll see that this whole project is very comprehensive. Much like other challenges like the 30 days of photography challenges, Peter has to work on something every day. He’s doing so and documenting it.

You’ll also click through to see the activities and Peter sharing his notes on his work.

Wow!


‼️‼️ELECTION DAY‼️‼️

And, finally, a new Ontario Blogger. This is from Indigenous Awareness.

Essentially, this post is a summary of positions about Indigenous issues from the major political parties in Canada. When I first read it, I was feeling badly that I hadn’t read it in advance of the election.

And yet, now that we have a minority government in place, perhaps the messages and positions from the parties are even more important. Will they be held accountable?

By themselves, each of the parties have shared their positions. But, since no one party will be able to pass legislation without assistance from another, looking for common threads or close to common threads might be a good indication of what might happen.


As I say every week, please take the time to click through and read these posts in their original form. There is great thinking and sharing of ideas there.

Then, follow these folks on Twitter to stay on top of their future thinking.

  • @acampbell99
  • @avivaloca
  • @LisaCorbett0261
  • @AMKeeLCS
  • @MrsLyonsLibrary
  • @pbeens
  • @indigenousawrns

This post appeared originally on:

https://dougpete.wordpress.com

If you read it anywhere else, it’s not the original.

When games were good


That should open up room for argument!

Recently, I had a chat with a teacher who complained that the computer setup at her school was essentially a multi-plex movie theatre with every student having their own screen watching YouTube video!

I one-upped her by recalling the good old days.  My computer lab was actually an arcade.  During lunch, before and after school, of course.  Students were allowed to use the computers and there were a few games that we available for play.  Hang in there; there’s a good educational story to come.

But first, big news from the Internet Archive

Another few thousand DOS Games are playable at the Internet Archive! Since our initial announcement in 2015, we’ve added occasional new games here and there to the collection, but this will be our biggest update yet, ranging from tiny recent independent productions to long-forgotten big-name releases from decades ago.

I had to click on over and see what was there.

Holy smokes!  What a huge collection!  So huge, in fact, that there were so many titles that I had never heard of.  Truthfully, most of them!

Of course, I had to try a couple of them out.  They run directly from the website in a DOS box right in your browser.  Here’s a classic!

Screenshot 2019-10-16 at 11.18.42

Who hasn’t played around the The Incredible Machine.  You can now relive your inner Rube Goldberg!

Now, the educational part.  While the original games had initial appeal for Computer Science students, the win came when they had the desire to write games of their own to try to out-do the commercial products.

The standard curriculum used smaller, simpler programs to write because students were learning the programming concepts.  As any Computer Science teacher will affirm, they aren’t always the most exciting or motivating thing to write.  But, turn students on to writing games that they can actually play or challenge friends with and they catch on fire.  They’ll research and learn new techniques; research parts of the language that they need to make something happen; and consider the person who’s actually going to play the game.  Bottom line, they’ll go much further on their own than you would ever hope to see in the regular class.

Admittedly, current technology is far more sophisticated than these games but they’re still enjoyable.

It’s a nice reminder that we all started somewhere.

Creative Coding in Python


I ran into Sheena Vaidyanathan at the recently CSTA Conference. (See my interview with her here. It includes links to resources that she’s created.)

Now, running into Sheena isn’t strange; she’s a regular at this conference. It was the circumstance that was strange. Just five minutes before I saw her, I had cleaned up the check-in desk and saw that someone had left a book on the counter. It was called “Creative Coding in Python” and written by Sheena with a 2019 Copyright.

I had a quick flip through the book, noting all the colourful pages and then put it on the back shelf for the owner to claim it.

When I saw Sheena, I figured she had to be the owner and was showing it off. I had a quick discussion about it, thinking that she was selling them at the conference but no, she wasn’t. And, this copy wasn’t hers. She told me to take it if nobody came looking for it.

Fortunately for me, I guess, nobody came to ask about it so it came home with me and provided me with the chance to read it cover to cover on the flight home. Now, I did have a couple of other books on my iPad to read that would be considered more recreational but I’ve given up being worried about looking geeky long ago!

I was nicely surprised with the format. I’ll admit, your typical Computer Science book isn’t exactly a page turner! But this one was. I didn’t have Python on my computer to try the examples but I did them in my head and it wasn’t long before I was at the end of the book.

I found the content a nice combination of old and new school content. I wondered to myself if you actually had to be old school to recognize the old school content.

There are five chapters, each devoted to a specific content that introduced and expanded on the concepts.

  • Chapter 1 – Create your own chatbots
  • Chapter 2 – Create your own art masterpieces
  • Chapter 3 – Create your own adventure games
  • Chapter 4 – Create your own dice games
  • Chapter 5 – Create your own apps and games

As to be expected, new concepts are added as you go along and the programs become more sophisticated as you work your way through the book. In the side columns, Sheena introduces and fleshes our computer concepts along the way.

So, who is the audience? Sheena teaches middle school and the writing level and activities would fit very nicely there. Of course, there are all kinds of tools for development of code in Python; she goes conservative and talks about using IDLE. I could see this book being used as a reference for a teacher learning and using Python with students. I could also see it being in the Resource Centre for students to check out if their regular classes are using a block based application for those who want to go further.

Of course, keeping with tradition, the first program is a “Hello world”.

The book is available through Amazon here. Click the cover and explore things.

Nifty


One of my favourite sessions that is held at the CSTA Conference is “Nifty Assignments”.

Nifty Assignments is a project to gather and distribute great assignment ideas and their materials by K-12 CS teachers for K-12 CS teachers. Each year a few assignments are showcased by the authors at the Nifty Assignments session held at the annual CSTA conference.  It is intended to be a replica of (and homage to) the highly successful, and longstanding, Nifty Assignments session at the Annual ACM SIGCSE conference devised by Nick Parlante.

Of course, there are rules – and a philosophy.

Anyone who has ever taught Computer Science knows that the problems included in textbooks can be simple and often not all that inspiring. You know that you end up creating many (most?) problems on your own. Make them relevant to your class, cover the concepts you’re teaching, engage students, etc.

Well, there’s one great Computer Science textbook – the greatest of all time Oh! Pascal! But beyond that, Computer Science teachers know the drill.

So, Nifty Assignments is an attempt, via session at the conference to address that. It’s very popular; whatever room it’s held in seems to always be packed and this year was no different.

The nifty resource can be found here.

This year’s collection has the following topics.

The slidedeck for the presentation is available as well. Check it out here.

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1SRXQjHb321b3QNb5VxUVNgf6MTLNo8RXOFgVhpsWSVE/edit

Follow the links on the individual topics to get to the details for these five great, er, nifty assignments.

It should come with a manual


My 11-year old received a #sphero for Christmas and he is passionately coding it to read “Happy New Year’. Really powerful to see him figure this stuff out. Reminds me of my early days with #Logo and #turtlegraphics. @peterskillen @dougpete— Stephen Hurley (@Stephen_Hurley) December 27, 2018

This, from Stephen Hurley, was one of the first Twitter messages that I read Thursday morning that really sunk in. Rolland Chidiac got into the conversation and was part of a further thought from Stephen.

I’ve been thinking about the deeper thinking about this contained in Papert’s Mindstorms. That was required reading in my teacher ed program!— Stephen Hurley (@Stephen_Hurley) December 27, 2018

It got me thinking just a little bit.

So often, toys, gadgets, and instruments of learning come with their own user manual. In many cases, it’s about the mechanics to get something to work and then, presumably you’re off to play and discover.

I wonder how many people actually visit the support website of the gadget to see the support that is provided to turn whatever it is into a powerful instrument of learning? Vendors such as Sphero have huge support, not only by the company, but by good educators doing great things in the classroom with the device. It’s only then that you take a minimal investment and unleash the power within.

It’s not a new thing. Stephen had tagged both Peter Skillen and me in the original message. Peter has long thought and learned deeply about what the child can do when programming takes place meaningfully. I instantly recalled a conversation with him when he “lost it” over a comment that there is so much research done today and little done in the past.

It inspired Peter to write this post. It’s as meaningful these days after Christmas and all the gifts that are in play. I would encourage anyone who has given such a gift this year to read it.

And, the manual? Perhaps this should be sold along with every device manual. At the very least, check it out at your local library.

A text version is available here for free.

Hopscotch for iPad


I will admit to a certain level of geekyness.  I’m not apologetic about it either.  Sometimes, I just like to sit down and write a program for the fun of it.  It’ll never go anywhere and I don’t share it with others.  I find it just something enjoyable to do.

One of the playthings that I’ve been poking about with is Hopscotch for the iPad.  You’re not going to mistake this for another productivity language and that’s not its goal.  The goal is to bring a programming environment for the younger, beginning programmer to the iPad.  I think it does it nicely.  There are some enhancements that are coming and you can read about them on the developer blog.  It definitely looks like the developers are listening to users.  That’s great.

At present, this is what you have.  You’ve got a development environment for the iPad, not dissimilar to Daisy the Dinosaur which had previously been reviewed on this blog.

If you’ve used the Scratch programming language, you’ll recognize the concepts immediately.  From the left menu, you have actions categorized by type – Movement, Lines, Controls, Looks, and Operators.  Just drag and drop onto the workspace and enter any required parameters.  You’ll recognized the concepts of sequencing, repetition, modifying parameters, etc.

The steps and presentation are well designed for the intended programming audience.  The cool thing is that it brings these concepts to students at an early age, on a device that they’re infatuated with, and in a context that is just fun.

What I find particularly interesting is that Hopscotch lets you program primitive actions or gestures your product.  It’s done easily and adds just another helpful dimension to the program.

If you’re looking for a creative environment for students or your children to break away from gaming or other activities, Hopscotch is definitely worth a look.  Just like the original Lego, they’ll soon be seduced into drawing and actions on their screen.  Dare we suggest they might learn a little mathematics while at it?

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