Date: Sep 29, 2011 2:27 PM
Author: kirby urner
Subject: Re: Continuing Education for Math Teachers (gnu math)

On Thu, Sep 29, 2011 at 2:10 AM, GS Chandy <> wrote:

> Thanks, Kirby, for that reference to Scott Gray's work and the origins of Make Math.
> I have not studied Scott Gray's work in detail and I do not yet know
> enough about "Make Math" to comment authoritatively in any way,
> but I do believe anyone who cares to read that blog would learn
> enough to put Wayne Bishop's dismissive comment
> (
> where it belongs - in the rubbish bin.
> Let's get some shovels ready (for those things that really deserve shovels to bury them)!

Dr. Bishop is somewhat politically obligated to not do a 180 and start
endorsing what he's consistently decried. Lots of people in that
position: needing to stay in character. And besides, we're still
talking about a future, albeit a field tested one (not unlike mine,
also covered in dirt and grime, from work in the trenches).

What I will say is one-on-one teaching moments are still important in
some distance education models and Scott's is one of them. You're
working with a real person, not a grading machine.

On the DM side of the fence, I get a lot of computer programs by
students. I check them and offer tips and advice, even when they're
meeting requirements (I'm often as verbose on passing as on
not-passing assignments).

What's cool about computer programming is the "show your work" part is
built in: you won't have the numbers without showing your work, which
in turn is self checking as if the logic is broken, you won't get the
numbers. From a math teaching standpoint, you've got one of those
to-die-for self-reinforcing feedback loops.

Why more math teachers don't couch it in programming is one of those
TV pundit questions for the sports bar (you can find me at Claudia's
some Thursdays).

For example, one of our DM track projects is: read in the Declaration
of Independence (ASCII text provided) and count how many words of each
word length you find, discounting (not counting) punctuation symbols.
The final result looks like this:

Length Count
1 16
2 267
3 267
4 169
5 140
6 112
7 99
8 68
9 61
10 56
11 35
12 13
13 9
14 7
15 2

That's like the answer in the back of the book, but there's no
"cheating", as if your program doesn't work, it won't give us this

Of course students might copy others' work and hand it in as their
own, but what's the incentive? The skills I'm teaching are in high
demand and the likelihood of getting work is pretty good if you master
the content. If you somehow fake your way through and even get
through the interview, then what?

It's your first day on the job and you're scrolling through reams of
code, expected to contribute, and now you have to confess you have no
idea what you're doing? Why be the star of that show? Why did you
waste all that time piggy backing, when you could have been evolving
your own personal style, winning the respect of your peers (what we
encourage at Blue House on campus).

No, our students are eager to get through on their own, knowing the
projects are "open book" in the sense that the documentation is
always available. Programming is not about memorizing ungodly amounts
of pure trivia. That's what Google is for. Learn the concepts, the
heuristics, and then be prepared to slog your way through unfamiliar
APIs for the rest of your life. No rose gardens were promised.
You're more like Spock on Star Trek: the control panel is always
newfangled (Cardassian? Klingon?).

Back to my DM track experiments in Portland, which are pure science
fiction compared to most of the country, we're looking at physical
coordination as an important criterion and see "precision" in more
than just neat handwriting or clear algebra.

Can you chop with sharp knives (fine motor skills)? How about
negotiating traffic in the rain, on a bike, hauling perishables (gross
motor skills)?

If you grew up in the 1950s you might be thinking of 'Boys Life' and
some kind of ranger danger camp, lots of testosterone. That was the
football and fast Chevy era (Ralph McGehee's contemporaries, an
idiocracy gone by). Nowadays we're more talking about girls (like
Lindsay or Valerie). Of course I should probably say "women" and
"men" given these are younger adults, more K-16 and older, than K-12.
I'm an outlier at this point in history, though some of our founders
(e.g. Keith McHenry) are older than I.

You don't see many of us out-of-the-closet grays running Outdoor Math
programs around here in rainy September-October -- might be different
around Denver?

You might think I'm being way too counter-culture in connecting gross
and fine motor skills with math skills, but that was the role of music
(add dance) in Greek civilization. They didn't have iTunes back then
so you couldn't just couch potato your way through the music
curriculum. You had to strum, blow, shake it, or otherwise control
your movements, in synch with a group. Disney is good on this, in
that Donald Duck in Math Land movie.

Hansen goes on about piano training and math training for a reason.
These two go together. That sense of rhythm, of timing, of getting
the right beat, was not seen as distinct from computational ability.
A similar intelligence, associated with Athena and Apollo, was seen to
connect these disciplines.

Fast forward to our own time and music is a highly computational
activity, having switched to digital even for most analog sounds.
Post production fine tuning is a job for high end digital gear. Any
music studio is likely to house Apples running Pro Tools or whatever.
Fourier Transforms become a way of life, and those really
understanding the math have an edge, not just along the production
pipeline, but when it comes to the artwork, like that of Kraftwerk.
M.C. Escher helped pave the way.

Yes, it's easy to poke fun at curricula wherein people suddenly stand
and start doing yoga or tai chi, like some kind of smart mob. In a
cube farm, that looks crazy, or like 1984 gone bananas (Big Sister
watching on web cams). However, geeks working at home or in a co-op
environment, know for a fact that lethargy leads to sloth, which
degrades code quality. Learning to spell yourself, take breaks, and
not just for donuts, is a survival skill, as most the alternatives are
recipes for burnout and early retirement into the ranks of the

There's a reason those corporate giants squander money on gyms.
They're not just "being nice". Having a DM track that includes heavy
exercise on occasion (geocaching an excuse?) is a godsend to many a
geek parent and grandparent.

I mention geeks a lot because that's who tends to frequent our DM
track these days. Think of me as a recruiter of IEEE engineers, a
gray in the Silicon Forest, soliciting not just the big bucks, but
personnel, willing to take some paid and/or unpaid leave to ride a
bike for a change, work in a community kitchen, dispatch center, or
supply house.

From this first person perspective, they ponder not just the physical
challenges but the systems aspects. Given how we're phasing out
Economics in favor of GST in some STEM curricula (e.g. urban
planning), this makes perfect sense. Enroll your kids today, give
them a head start learning the ropes. But also enroll yourself.