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 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.