An email conversation December 2005 with

Joshua Zucker

Castilleja School, Palo Alto, CA.



A quick look at your website shows that you are doing much more of the kind of thing that I want to teach!  For example -- and I found this example almost right away, so I'm betting that your site is full of this kind of stuff -- you write (after a bunch of good exercises leading up to this):


  1. WRITE A FUNCTION that calculates the Y-intercept, given the slope and 1 point. Hint: Look at the PATTERN of examples in finding the solutions to the linear equation worksheet to develop the function.


And there you go: FOLLOW THE DESIGN RECIPE.  Examples first, then design the function to abstract the examples.


  1. Write a function that calculates the slope of a line given two points.


  1. Write a function that calculates the Y-intercept of a line given 2 points. Hint: REUSE your slope function and Y-intercept functions


That's wonderful stuff!  You're teaching great algebra AND great programming AND great thinking skills at the same time.  Absolutely beautiful!



I think what we really need is a University to write a NSF grant to support math education using programming.  We need to get together for a week during the summer. I think with the math problems across the U.S., this is what they are looking for.  I have a small grant from Annenberg to work on this, but need a larger grant to really move forward. 



That all sounds great to me!



And not only will it help math, it might encourage more students to study computer science in high school that carries over to Universities.



Yup.  Teaching at an all-girls school, and being passionate about "extracurricular math" (projects, contests, and all the topics usually left out of high school like number theory, combinatorics, and so on), this is especially important to me.



You are so right about needing an alternative book!



Now the question is, who is smart enough (and understands 6th graders well enough) to write it?  I think I'll nominate you, Karen!  The tidbits from your web site look great, and you're already hooked up with some grant money, and you certainly understand middle school students better than I do.


We'll probably be rolling out our new middle school CS program, whatever it may end up being, in the fall of 2007, as part of the celebration of our school's centennial, looking forward to the next century by modernizing our curriculum a bit.  So, that gives you about a year and a half to get the job done ;)

Thanks!  You've helped cheer me up a lot already.  At least I know some people still believe that TEACHING HOW TO THINK, rather than teaching some feeble Java-like syntax, IS THE POINT OF TEACHING programming.



And you have cheered me up.  At least I know there are some people out there who understand that programming can be used to enhance algebraic concepts.