Surprised again

We’ve begun our second unit, “As the Cube Turns” in my IMP4 classes. We are about two weeks into the unit and today students started asking, “When are we ever going to use programming in real life?”.  I honestly didn’t expect the question to come up about programming (and when will I learn to stop trying to predict what will happen?).

I expected the question to be asked about trig. About matricies. About transformations. Not about programming.

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4 Responses to Surprised again

  1. Richard says:

    Few students know what programming is. Also, my programming students who are also in an IMP class that “programs” find the TI calculator programming to be unbearably cumbersome. One of my girls rewrote the “as the cube turns” program in Python and the code was so much more readable.

    I would say a question like “When will we ever use TI graphing calculator programs in real life” is legit. Programming in general, however, is something else.

  2. Jackie says:

    I agree that programming a TI isn’t really applicable to real life Richard. We were having the discussion about programming in general. I have told them that there are other languages in which we could write much more elegant code.

    I’m more concerned with them understanding the structure and logic of the programs, rather than focusing on the syntax of BASIC on the TI’s.

    They have written some pretty cool animations already though!

  3. colleenk says:

    Many of the schools in my area are using very traditional math books. In each one of these dated books, there is a section that shows a BASIC program featuring whatever concept was the focus of the chapter. This section is hidden and generally overlooked.

    The programs are simplistic and culminate with the print out of some value – a factorial, a distance, a slope, etc. Not very exciting, for sure, but I had this sense that there was something good there. Altogether, there were about 60 mini programs that addressed concepts from algebra to precalc.

    Imagine combining these ideas with an updated and easy to understand language such as Actionscript or Python. Instead of generating a print out, these programs would result in much more interesting screen animation. An entire high school math curriculum could be taught this way. Math concepts would be understood in a way that just isn’t possible via lecture notes and the programming skills gained would be very practical.

    While this isn’t an original idea by any stretch (I think a fellow by the name of Papert may have had a similar notion), I haven’t seen any examples in practice. I’ve been dabbling in this area with my enrichment students. In a geometry session last year, they were totally disinterested in determining the distance between two points. I showed them how I was using that formula in a game I was making. It was used to calculate the distance between a moving vehicle and stationary objects on the screen. When the distance reached a certain predetermined minimum, the vehicle reversed its direction. Not only did they learn the formula but the concept became much more meaningful. I now embed programming into our sessions when I can. Actionscript has a powerful Matrix class that has come in handy for our algebra and precalc sessions.

    What sort of animations have your students written?

  4. Chuck says:

    Kids love that question. No matter what the topic.
    It’s a good question too.

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