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.
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