Thursday, September 25, 2008

patching turtle art

Walter Bender is attempting to bridge the gap between teachers and developers:

Sugar Digest 2008-09-22 (September archive IAEP):
Some teachers in Uruguay are teaching the Pythagorean Theorem and were stymied by the lack of a square root function in Turtle Art. They wanted to demonstrate that the length of the diagonal of a square is equal to the square root of the sum of the square of each side. In pseudocode, they wanted to build the following construct:

repeat 4 (forward 100 right 90)
right 45
forward sqrt ((100*100) + (100*100))

Lots of alternatives were discussed, including using Dr. Geo. My favorite comment was from Pato Acevedo, who said:
[Modo Irónico on]
Claro, no puedo entender como fue que Pitagoras "descubrió" su famoso Teorema si en su epoca no existian calculadoras
[Modo Irónico Off]

Google translate:
[Ironic mode on]
Sure, I cannot understand how that was Pythagoras discovered his famous Theorem in his time if there were no calculators
[Ironic Mode Off]

But eventually—albeit with some intervention on my part—the discussion turned towards how to modify the Turtle Art activity. I put together a tutorial with the hope that not only would I be satisfying the immediate needs of the teachers, but also, showing them that in fact they could, themselves, make the necessary changes to the program to meet their needs. I am hoping that I didn't make it too easy for them and that some of them will risk making changes—creating new instruments ... A dialog between teachers and developers has begun. The next step is for some of the teachers to become developers.
I left this comment on the IAEP (Its an education project) list:
The idea of building a bridge for that small percentage (I agree with rob's figures) who want to be developers is a good one

insert: Rob Costello's figures were: (<1%) of teachers who would have the technical confidence/background/interest to learn /apply this (and maybe 0.01 % would already possess the skills)

I've asked a friend over to talk me through Patching_Turtle_Art. I'm lucky to have such a friend, otherwise I would have to ask dumb questions in public, which is not good for teacher ego since teachers are meant to know things already :-) I would identify fear of looking dumb as a major obstacle to these bridging explorations.

Some educators have written about what it means to join a community - what does it actually mean to be a scientist, a basketball professional or a software developer? eg. James Gee wrote a book (What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy) about how computer games could be used in this way. He identifies these elements of joining what he calls a semiotic domain:
  1. we learn to experience the world in a new way: see, feel and operate on
  2. we gain the potential to join a new social group, a new club
  3. we gain the resources that prepare us for future learning and problem solving in a new domain and perhaps related domains
He's trying to draw a distinction between simple knowledge and being part of a community of knowledge, the latter being the real deal

When I read through walter's account, already knowing a little bit (but not a great deal) about programming, python, logo, turtle art, visual programming I still have really basic questions to ask - things that are so transparent to developers that it may not occur to even think of them as questions or problems that have to be overcome before being engaged in this activity:
  • Where do you find things (python files, source code)
  • Which things do what? How does walter know which python files have to be tweaked?
  • Who do you communicate with? (I didn't know that Brian Silverman was the maintainer and didn't know his email)
  • How do you program more advanced stuff in python, eg. using lambda?
  • What is FOSS etiquette, how do you go about learning to be a member of this community?
Due to the reality of being a teacher (lack of time, large classes, the need to keep kids busy on task, schools and communities dominated by propriety software) all of the above is problematic - but as rob says a small % of teachers and a bigger percentage of students are open to it.

1 comment:

Bill Kerr said...

Walter has answered my questions here: Talk:Patching_Turtle_Art