Saturday, August 01, 2015

A visual introduction to algebra

Having introduced many students to algebra, I have always wanted to find a way to make it "make sense". One year, I met two researchers from the University of San Diego, Dr Ferdinand Rivera and Dr Joanne Rossi at a conference in Greece(*). Their presentations and later conversations I had with the two of them, especially an electronic correspondence with Dr Rivera, changed my practice completely.

This is a recorded description of this approach that was presented to the staff of Avila College in December 2014.



If you wish, you can download my article, Thinking Visually About Algebra, from the website of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers Inc.

(*) Psychology of Mathematics Education 33.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Problems that do not compute

Today, my task was to convince my students that there are problems which computers cannot solve in a practical time, say a year or a few years! It was meant to be an informal introduction to the concept of the limits of computation and we did it by exploring two specific problems: The towers of Hanoi and the Travelling Salesman.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Isaac Asimov on education and the Internet!

Yesterday, I listened to this excerpt of an interview with Isaac Asimov on Radio National's Future Tense program page. It is characteristically prescient:
Once we have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries ... If there's something you're interested in knowing, from an early age, however silly it might seem to someone else ... you ask and you can find out and you can follow it up and you can do it at your own speed, at your own home, in your own time, then everyone will be interested in learning.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

What do Australian parliamentarians, the BBC, President Obama and will.i.am have in common?

They all want school-aged students to learn to write computer programs, sometimes referred to as “coding”. This has become a feature of many modern curricula worldwide, from Estonia to the UK and now Australia. The questions I would ask myself as a teacher and a parent are: Why and how? This is my attempt at answering these questions together with a few others.
What is computer programming?
Computer programming is the act of giving instructions to the computer in order to fulfil a particular purpose. For instance, we can write a computer program that checks if a certain number is prime. We can also write computer programs that draw shapes or play music.






"Powerpuff girl", generative art by D.J. and L. P.

Year 10 Big Ideas in Computer Technology





Never give up, keep trying

Yesterday, 3 students and I left Avila College early in the morning to attend and speak at the annual conference of Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria, DigiCon15. We were there speak about our experience in the first year of VCE Algorithmics.

Our session was straight after morning tea. We spoke to a group of teachers considering offering the subject at their respective schools. I presented my experience as a teacher and the students told of their own joys and struggles with the content of this very ambitious course.

The common themes in what all four of us said were: Great content and lack of resources. The teachers in attendance left with a better idea of the work involved in teaching the subject: I told them it would take over their lives in the first year. I was not exaggerating!

The most important part of our presentation came at the end, when the audience had 15 minutes to ask us questions. Most of these were directed to the students and they answered them brilliantly. One answer that stuck in my mind came in response to the question: "What is the best advice you could give to prospective students?" They said: "Never give up, keep trying. The problems are hard but you get a great feeling when you solve them." These are the very students for whom this course was designed.


Thursday, March 05, 2015

5 weeks of VCE Algorithmics

All holidays, I was anticipating the start of the Algorithmics class. In my last post, I mentioned that we were 7 in the class but now we're 8. What happened was that two students went to the NCSS Summer School and fell in love with computer science. One of them was already enrolled and the other decided to join. Now, the number of year elevens has increased to 5, joining 2 year twelves and me.

Each week, the students complete a series of exercises. They are at different stages in their transition to "algorithmic thinking" but they're all making progress. We have solved puzzles and learnt about queues and stacks. More on these later.

So, what has it been like teaching this course? The briefest statement I can make is: "It's a lot of hard work but totally worth it!"

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

VCE Algorithmics: The journey begins

Today, I had my first class of VCE Algorithmics. This is a computer science course that will be part of the Victorian Certificate of Education for the first time in 2015. Like many other schools, we have a week's "headstart" at the end of this academic year. My class is made up of six girls and me. Four of the girls are in year 11 and the remaining two are in year 12. As for me, I am out of school and in my forties! We will learn much and solve many problems together and I have been waiting impatiently for the course to get under way.

Given that the textbook is yet to be published, I took the opportunity of this week to lay some ground in "algorithmic thinking". The students looked at a few algorithms today and decided what each of them accomplished. Here is one. Do you know what it does?



If you want to work it out for yourself, stop reading!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Wonderful advice to young women at the "Go Girl, Go for IT" conference

Today, two colleagues of mine and I accompanied 46 year 9 and 10 girls to the Go Girl conference at Deakin University. After a warm welcome by program director, Fi Slaven, the presentations started with the day's conference patron, Karen Stocks, Managing Director of Twitter Australia (@KazStocks). Karen gave the students 3 pieces of advice:
  1. It is okay not to have a life plan. Follow passions, dreams. Do something that makes your heart beat faster. Trust that you'll end up somewhere good.
  2. Education, education, education. Don't just get a degree, do well. Good grades will show that you can apply yourself.
  3. You will earn credibility through sustained performance. Be humble, patient and respect your elders, even when you feel that you're the smartest person at the table.

Next up was Tammy Butow (@tammybutow) , senior digital strategist at NAB. It was inspiring to see someone achieve so much at such a young age. She encouraged the girls to build products, learn to code and form teams with complementary skills.