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I am proud to announce that Cemetech founder and administrator Christopher Mitchell (also known as yours truly, Kerm Martian), will be speaking at Texas Instruments' T3 International 2013 conference. This annual event brings thousands of teachers to discuss STEM education, particularly how it applies to TI's educational technology. I will be giving a talk based on my book, Programming the TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus"; the talk is entitled:

"Teaching Beginner Programming Concepts With the TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus"

I will be presenting in a classroom with 80 seats (and 81 TI-84+SE calculators), teaching teachers why guiding their students towards learning programming with calculators has value. I plan to go through a brief introduction to programming's place in STEM education, how calculators are actually small computers, then jump into two examples. I am considering showing the teachers the quadratic equation solver and the guessing game from Chapter 1 of my book, to show them how easy it is to write simple programs that tie both programming and math together. If you're attending T3, please let me know so I can give you a wave; for everyone else, I will do my best to record the session.

Like a boss!
That's good news, congratulations Wink

The contacts that were created (not at TI's initiative - some people had to point TI to Kerm's work and ideas for TI to start considering taking advantage of his skills) after Maker Faire already have an interesting effect.


Even if I'm skeptical about the value for teaching of newfangled technology, it's clear that too many teachers don't do a good job of transmitting interest for math and scientific matters to students.
Having fun and scratching their own itch, on open-minded and programmable platforms (needless to say), clearly help raising students' interest.
I think it's clear from the steadily-declining ranks of STEM students, at least in the United States, that something is going wrong in instilling a love of STEM subjects in students. Whether the fault lies with teachers, curricula, schools, parents, students, or society, I can't say, but it definitely needs to be fixed. I'm hoping that even if I can get a few dozen teachers thinking about their calculators as programmable tools, and share that with a few hundred students, that I'll have taken a good step towards helping.
I think that the fault lies with a combination of all sources you mention:
* (probably the root cause ?) the real world / society values e.g. marketing, private law firms and finance (just to mention three areas) more than scientific matters, though scientific matters are essential to many other activities. Wages are comparatively low in scientific matters, and unbelievably high for some classes of pure finance (e.g. classes of trading totally disconnected from a real-world basis);
* curricula don't necessarily value scientific matters, to say the least;
* the school system has significant impedance mismatch with the real world's needs - not that school shouldn't teach skills beyond the immediate needs of the real world (as the world is in constant state of evolution and over-specialization is not a good thing), but for instance, exams which forbid usage of the CAS are retarded;
* the vast majority of students would rather earn more money - not that we can blame them for that, though ^^;
* likewise, parents would rather see their children have more, than less, money, because it clearly helps, in the real world - and we can't blame them either;
* some teachers are not interested in technology (and plain suck at teaching), and also, they don't necessarily want to push students to areas where they earn comparatively less money.

Not that this state of fact can be fixed without changing the system's principles from top to bottom... raising wages for productive scientific matters and decreasing them for unproductive or counter-productive activities (the patent mess, poor marketing, all that money wasted in the legal system instead of being spent on R&D, etc.).


And agreed, if you can bring several additional hundreds of students above the average level, that will already be a good step towards helping Smile
I think the fault is both apathetic teachers and students that have preconceived notions that math is "hard" or "boring" and useless. The fact was in my school the math teachers hated their jobs, didn't like math to begin with, and the way they taught was "here do problems 1-200 by tomorrow or you fail" and if we needed help we had to look it up on our own..but congrats Kerm! you gonna post a video of your speech when it's done? Very Happy
Also, many many secondary math teachers are under the impression that teaching math consists of teaching numeric computations that will be useful to engineers and checkbook balancers, rather than, say, teaching math. I'm still horrified by the conversation I had when we were discussing math pedagogy after your anti-Nspire essay, when one of the teachers suggested that it was better to teach students to find numeric solutions to problems rather than analytic ones.
Congratulations, Kerm! I'm glad that you get to teach teachers about what you do best. And I also second the issues with bad math teachers - I've experienced both good and bad, and I know that good teachers definitely have something else about them.

However, I am a little skeptical that talking about programming in a math class is actually a good idea, because to truly "get" programming, you must have what is known as "algorithmic thinking", or the ability to see how states change as rules are applied sequentially or in paralell. For instance, here is a programming question that my computer science professor invented to test this kind of knowledge:

Code:
public static int function(int n)
{
  int x = 0;
  while (n % 2 == 0)
  {
    // Point A
    x++;
    n = n / 2;
    // Point B
  }
  // Point C
  return x;
}

The question is to determine whether the statement "n % 2 == 0" is always true, sometimes true, or never true at each of points A, B, and C. A person with algorithmic thinking (which make up about 2% of the population) can run a computational model in their head, "playing computer" to determine that the statement is always true at A, sometimes true at B, and never true at C. But a person without this ability can't see why the statement is sometimes true at B, since it is within the while loop that test the statement. This person has no computational model in their head - they are reading this code block like a paragraph and have no idea what it is actually doing. And while these people can be taught individual coding tools (which is why they can use drag-and-drop programming), they cannot be taught algorithmic thinking.

Mathematics, however, does not require algorithmic thinking, because the state of the system never changes during the course of the problem. Calculus does involve change, yes, but the change is well defined as a before-and-after state.
Compynerd, what you just said is completely wrong, but still manages to stab at the heart of what is wrong with secondary math education. Which is to say, it isn't designed to be a math education, it is designed to be a primer for engineering calculus (a problem dating back to the space race and the Cold War).

Computer science is fundamentally mathematics.
Well Kerm, I'm glad that you're going, since .. I'll meet you there Very Happy
I'm not sure if I'm going to talk (which would be about Lua programming), but if not, I'll be representing TI-India anyway with some booth like last time (T3 2012) showing different activities, simulations etc. Smile

Can't wait ! Very Happy
Adriweb, that's great! I regret that I can't go to the main Lua session, as it overlaps with my own talk. I look forward to meeting you there.

Compynerd: I very much disagree that people can't be taught "algorithmic thinking," to simulate programs (either written or imagined) in their heads. I think you need a reasonable amount of intelligence and some spatial and mathematical reasoning skills, but I believe it's something that can be taught.
hope this gets recorded, i definently want to see this!
LuxenD wrote:
hope this gets recorded, i definently want to see this!
Yes, if they're not recording it themselves, I will definitely set up a camera or two for the sake of posterity (both for myself and for you guys).
KermMartian wrote:
Adriweb, that's great! I regret that I can't go to the main Lua session, as it overlaps with my own talk.

Uh that applies to me too then Sad
Well, I'll see what the timings are exactly Razz

KermMartian wrote:
I look forward to meeting you there.
Same ! Will you be there during the three days btw ?
This is great, Kerm! I won't be there, though.
Adriweb: I will be there at least Friday and Saturday. I am debating whether to take the bus back and forth to New York or try to find cheaper housing. Are you staying in Philly? The $250 per night for the hotels they quoted is too dear for me.
elfprince13 wrote:
Compynerd, what you just said is completely wrong, but still manages to stab at the heart of what is wrong with secondary math education. Which is to say, it isn't designed to be a math education, it is designed to be a primer for engineering calculus (a problem dating back to the space race and the Cold War).

Computer science is fundamentally mathematics.

KermMaritan wrote:
I very much disagree that people can't be taught "algorithmic thinking," to simulate programs (either written or imagined) in their heads. I think you need a reasonable amount of intelligence and some spatial and mathematical reasoning skills, but I believe it's something that can be taught.

Okay, so I'll admit that saying that it can't be taught at all is completely wrong - some people can definitely earn it, and others might have the ability but need to have it unlocked. I will, however, mention two things that support this:
► This same professor was also the chief reader for the AP Computer Science exam, and because he also set the record of failing the most kids that year, he was given spreadsheets of the raw scores on diskette. When he ran correlations between multiple-choice questions and other MC and free response questions, he found that while most of the questions weren't correlated (not even questions of the same topic) five multiple choice questions were strongly correlated to at least a dozen other questions, even questions that had absolutely nothing in common as far as subject matter was concerned. And this is the question with the greatest correlation coefficient (note: this is in Pascal):

Code:
23. Given that b is a boolean variable, what does this statement do?

    b := (b = false);

A. It generates a compile-time error.
B. It generates a run-time error.
C. It sets b to false no matter what b was originally.
D. It always changes the value of b.
E. It changes the value of b if and only if b was true beforehand.

► Also, I can speak from experience here. I possess this algorithmic thinking, but my little brother does not. I have worked with him on multiple projects in Game Maker, working with simple algorithims as well as object inheritance to simplify code. However, when he comes up with stuff on his own, he does not innovate or research how to get tools to work together, but assembles his very limited knowledge like a set of kludgy tools (e.g. instead of using Change Sprite and indexed sprites, he uses four different objects for each direction his character can fact, which is very bad). It is clear that he thinks of Game Maker like he thinks of Photoshop - just another set of tools for doing something.
That's fantastic. Hopefully your presentation and speech can incite them to become more dev-friendly. Shame I can't attend, though.
We should never set our hopes high on TI becoming more user-friendly. This way, we'll collectively be less disappointed if they don't change behaviour or worsen it, and we'll be all the more happy if they improve behaviour.
Oh please say those teachers not to upload their quadratic solvers to ticalc.org... D:
  
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