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Topic: Another gnu math lesson plan (web topology)
Replies: 15   Last Post: Aug 27, 2006 3:38 PM

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Kirby Urner

Posts: 4,713
Registered: 12/6/04
Re: Another gnu math lesson plan (web topology)
Posted: Aug 20, 2006 7:24 PM
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You'll periodically come across the view that math shouldn't be left to the math teachers, and there's lots the language arts community could be doing, do advance numeracy as a subtype of literacy, given its considerable experience teaching grammar and reading, writing and drawing (I'm throwing in graphics and storyboarding as a "language art" -- of interest to film majors especially)

Probably my friend Gene Fowler's vision comes close to the reality: we'll be phasing in some HTML around the edges, to help with self-expression (every kid wants a web page these days), and in so doing, will maybe mention XHTML, which brings up the question: from whence this X? Answer: XML. And what's XML? And so goes the discussion in many a language arts class, even today in middle America.

Now if your English classes were anything like mine, they were also about organizing one's thinking, as in "lead sentence at the top of each paragraph" and "an outline of topics and subtopics would be nice." And when we read something, or heard it in a lecture, we were encouraged to "diagram our thoughts" (arrows connecting talk balloons).

Assuming nothing has really changed on that score, except maybe the terminology, you probably see where this is going: we'll be explaining DOM at some point, the Document Object Model. DOM is important in any MVC treatment of how the web really works -- more of an engineering topic, which is my point: we now have a literature-to-engineering bridge (or mountain pass), over which to bus high quality curriculum materials in both directions.

Now the DOM is of course a tree, as is XML more generally. Parent nodes have children, and their children may have children, as well as siblings. But we don't have multiple parent branches in this tree model. Even an exploded diagram of a book's structure (including title page, table of contents, chapters and index) is a tree.

On the other hand, those "mind maps" people draw after hearing a lecture are more likely "networks" -- a somewhat different topology. And in bringing cognizance of these data structures into the foreground, we're again treading into that turf called computer science.

So once again, the language arts are proving their ability to foment numeracy, even while circumventing what we'd traditionally consider garden variety grade school mathematics.

I think behind this trend (the convergence of language arts with computer science) is the existence of a new generation of writers, who mix a healthy dose of technology into their narrative, starting with the science fiction writes, such as Asimov and Heinlein.

These post war writers helped fuel a new literacy about science (Asimov also wrote a tremendous amount of non-fiction), motivating a slew of scifi TV shows, many embedding positive futurism (albiet oft in some hypothetical 24th century).

Now that the computer revolution is behind us (at least the first one), we're getting another admixture of narrative literacy and technology, such as we find in the works of Neal Stephenson. I'll throw in Buckminster Fuller, the American Transcendentalist for participating in this 2nd wave, though in part just to tie it back to maritime storytelling, in which technology has always figured prominently ("you won't really appreciate how she went down, if you don't know what a foremast is sonny").

The emergence of computers into popular culture now allows us to illuminate the thinking of several thinkers previously only appreciated within closed Ivory Tower philosophy circuits, such as Leibniz and Turing. Once obscure computer scientists, quite a few of them women, are becoming our heros and role models now. Kids read about GNU and Linux, Stallman and Torvalds. This is a part of their history. It didn't all end with WWII.

My summary conclusion, then, is that gnu math teachers needn't waste a lot of energy barking up the "wrong tree" by thinking in terms of direct math reform.

Don't tackle the entrenched textbook empires head-on.

This is all about cyberspace anyway, not Core Plus versus Saxon. Find your peers in the language arts community and brainstorm with them about how we'll bridge through the DOM.

Just get top notch engineers and creative storyboardists to work in tandem, to make a lot of worthy dreams come true. Whatever the competition does to keep up is its business. At least we know what *we're* all about.

4D Studios

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