Saturday, January 25, 2014

Programming and Math

So as I mentioned last post, I'm trying to learn some computer programming. Both my dad and brother have considerable experience with programming, and I've always been interested in computers and what makes them tick. I decided to pursue this interest in December, and I'm kicking around some ideas for iPad apps, web apps, etc...

In the course of this learning, I've noticed just how strongly computer programming and math intersect. Trying to create the perfect expression, or perform a variety of operations on a variable, has required such a solid understanding of exactly what I'm trying to do. My work as an Instructional Coach this year has also immersed me in the math (and language arts) Common Core Standards, and there's such tremendous overlap between the conceptual understanding expected of students and the required comprehension present in writing a computer program.

I decided to test things out to see if I could take a math standard (specifically, 5.NBT.A.1 - Recognize that in a multi-digit number, a digit in one place represents 10 times as much as it represents in the place to its right and 1/10 of what it represents in the place to its left) and demonstrate it with a computer program. What I wound up with was incredibly complex for a fifth grader - a program that attempted to identify place value and show numbers in expanded form, each digit multiplied by ten to the appropriate power. Could students do this? With lots of scaffolding and a firm understanding of place value, yes. A student's ability to create such a program would truly reflect what he or she understood, while at the same time being engaging and promoting many of the Standards of Mathematical Practice that also need to be addressed.

I'm hoping that in the coming weeks, I can find other teachers who have both the inclination and the resources to attempt a series of lessons like this. I think it could be so powerful, and there really aren't a ton of resources out there for teaching programming (Python is what I've been using) to elementary school students. I'll share what I find out.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Oh Yeah...

...I was trying to start a blog!

It's amazing how easy it is for time to slip away from you. I'm going to make a renewed effort to better maintain this thing.

What better way to get started than with a truly inspiring post from another blogger I follow? Ben Orlin's Math with Bad Drawings blog is immensely entertaining and enlightening. What a creative guy!

His most recent post, "Undiscovered Math", is ripe with possibilities. I'd love to introduce some students to his writing, and I think this could be the perfect post. How cool would it be to put students into the same situation as his fifth-grade self to "discover" this amazing mathematical pattern, then mimic the process of discovering that what you found is "trivial" in the grander scheme of mathematics? He has some wonderful insight into the notion that just because a discovery is viewed by some as trivial, it doesn't detract from the event's poignancy or impact on a budding explorer.

I've had much the same experience recently as I've begun learning computer programming. Few feelings surpass the pure joy I experience when I run a new program and discover that it worked exactly as it should. Recently, writing Python code to dump user-generated data into a separate, saved file that can be accessed in another sitting elicited all sorts of noises that are typically heard only from giddy schoolgirls. An experienced programmer, however, would scoff and say, "You're just using a built-in method from a module someone else created." Still, the sense of wonder and discovery I feel persists and only really serves as a motivator to get me programming more. Maybe one day *I'll* create a module someone else will use!

I want students to experience this same feeling. What an incredible catalyst to push students to excel and feel invigorated learning something new! How do we manufacture this feeling as often as possible, though? I have ideas that I'm hoping to flesh out over the coming weeks...