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.

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.

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.