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Programming should be taught in middle school

February 2, 2014 Leave a comment
In every public school system reading is taught and writing is too. I don’t know of any example where writing isn’t taught. The first few years might focus on only reading, but once the hand eye coordination gets good enough that the kids can start writing, they are taught how to write. Some students show great aptitude for reading, but then don’t write so well, and some students don’t care much for reading, but are excellent writers. Generally strength in one, correlates with strength in the other, but not necessarily. Yet at the moment public education only teaches students how to read math, it doesn’t teach students how to ‘write math’. This results in an imbalance that generates feelings about how learning math is a complete waste of time. Forgot Algebra is an excellent XKCD comics which illustrates this point; the text in the comic says “It’s weird how proud people are of not learning math when the same arguments apply to learning to play music, cook, or speak a foreign language.” I don’t think it is weird because the math education most people get is akin to learning only how to read, with never being taught how to write. Their brain is imbalanced.
So how should students be taught how to ‘write math’? by programming. I don’t think that some computer programming should be taught at the very end of high school, for the more advanced students, it should be taught earlier than that, and to everyone. If I remember my education correctly, I had Pre-Algebra in 7th grade, and Algebra 2 in 9th grade. Toss them out, and replace them with Introduction to Programming and Data Structures. Everything which is taught in Pre-Algebra will accidentally get picked up writing some simple programs, the concepts of Algebra will get picked up faster because the students will have had some hands on experiencing using those concepts (but not being aware of it), and there are bound to be Data Structure problems that can be used to teach the concepts in Algebra 2.
I feel strongly that by teaching students how to inadvertently use math, they’ll be much more likely to pick up the concepts of math which are currently being taught in High School today.
When teaching children how to read, we don’t drill them on every shape and sound that letters make, before teaching them concepts like words and sentences. We start by reading to them, and then go back and teach some basics. We show them examples of what reading can do for them. Each progressing year in school will have more and more teaching on how to read, practice reading, how to write and practice writing. It doesn’t work to teach every concept of reading before moving onto writing, teaching and practicing the principles of both re-enforce the other. The same is true for math and applied math, i.e. programming.
I remember seeing an episode of Full House where one of the daughters storms into the house complaining about how hard math is now. In the previous grade (6th?) math was all numbers, and now the teachers were making it confusing by introducing letters; i.e. variables. This fictional character isn’t the only one who had difficulty crossing this mental math barrier. But if instead of being taught ‘letter math’ she was taught programming instead, the transition to ‘letter math’ would be much more natural. Programming would feel like a completely new subject, not like math at all. And the idea of sticking a number into a variable wouldn’t feel weird at all, it’s just what you do in programming. Then after a year of writing functions and function declarations (a name given to the concept of naming an algorithm, declaring what it takes as an input, and what it will return) in her programming class, when it came time to take algebra it would all feel very second nature to the student.
Personally, I never understood the f(x) notation while I was in high school and middle school. I was very good at math; I loved math, and even got a 5 on the AP Calculus test. But I still struggled with what the f(x) notation was supposed to convey. I understood y = x + c, notation just fine. Plugging in numbers for known variables was simple. But that whole f(x) (pronounced f of x) thing was beyond me. Then one day in my first semester at University in my Introduction to Programming class my professor shorthanded a function declaration on the whiteboard as f(x), and all of a sudden so much of my middle and high school education made a whole lot more sense. If I would have had to opportunity to ‘program’ a couple of functions myself – with proper declarations and understanding why they were needed – the notation and purpose used in math class would have been significantly more relevant.
Programming is a useful skill in and of itself, but it is also the yin to math’s yang. It is time to make our students more well rounded by teaching them the possibilities of what a computing device can do, and show them how to apply math. Just like how kids will spend the first few years of their lives being taught how to read, without really being taught how to write, the elementary school years of math should be kept as is. But once it’s time to introduce variables into the math education, the students should be taught programming, so that they may begin to ‘write math’. Their understanding of math will grow significantly and they’ll pick up a useful skillset at the same time.

Busy Day

December 13, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve had quite the busy day. I didn’t even make it into work. First I waited for a package, then I went to the bank to deposit a check, then I went to the dentist, then I returned some medical equipment, next was putting new tires on the car followed by a haircut. I then went back home, had lunch, distracted my son for about an hour and took one package to the Post and another to the UPS store. After that I went to the charity deposit trailer and dropped some stuff off. By the time I was done with all of that it was 4 pm, and my son was waking up from his nap. I sure had a lot to do for a Thursday.

Categories: Organizations

King County will get GPS in the busses

March 26, 2012 Leave a comment

The current King County bus tracking system is really sad. I mean, really sad. The website itself mentions how inaccurate it can be. What the King County Metro does is track the odometer on the buses and has the busses report in at major stops. Then should the driver take a wrong turn, or it’s a snow day (ie, the times you really want to know where your bus is), the whole system is completely unreliable. Given how cheap GPS devices are I emailed King County Councilman Larry Phillips about this. He forwarded my email to Kevin Desmond who replied to me and informed me that half of the King County busses (he calls them coaches) have GPS installed right now. They expect the other half to have them installed by the end of 2012. After all of the busses get GPS installed they’ll roll out a new customer facing front end for tracking the busses. Personally, I think that they should roll out the new front end right now, and people can get excited as the busses they use get the GPS, but having it by the end of the year will be acceptable too. It’s good to know at least something is being done.

Categories: Organizations

Vigilante parking justice

March 10, 2012 Leave a comment

I realize that police don’t have the resources to patrol every parking lot, but sometimes I wish they did. It really bothers me to see really bad parking jobs. Especially where the car is so far over the line that no one can take the spot next to them. It’s an inefficient waste of space. So, how can we use societal forces to encourage better parking? I propose that the different counties in the US setup data stores for pictures of bad parking jobs. Many people carry devices which have cameras that store location data into the meta data of the picture. We can use these devices to reasonably report bad parking jobs.

The idea is that you see a bad parking job, take a picture and submit it to the county. The picture must show the license plate, the parking violation, the time the picture was taken, and the location of the picture. Of course it would be rather heavy handed if a single picture resulted in a fine, but an accumulation of pictures should. If enough pictures came in for a particular license plate the local municipality would have the right to ticket the owner of the car. Say, perhaps twelve within a years period. Giving citizens the power to report violations like this will create a not unhealthy outlet for their frustration of not getting an open parking space, and it would encourage people to properly park in their space. Societal harmony achieved at last.

Washington State Traffic Radio Stations

January 28, 2012 Leave a comment

When driving along the interstate it is not uncommon to see a blue sign with yellow lights on top, which says to tune into a certain radio station, should the yellow lights be flashing. Their purpose is to alert drivers to weather and traffic situations. The other day I emailed the Washington State Department of Transportation for a list of all of the radio stations they use, so that I can preset them on my car radio. Ron Vessy emailed me back a document called HAR locations, which is a map showing the WSDOT Highway Advisory Radio locations. Since I normally drive along I-405 and my longer drives generally include the Western half of I-90 and I-82 the two radio stations I need to be concerned about are 530 AM and 1610 AM. Sure, I could have programmed them while on the road, but officially asking should be safer.

Categories: Organizations, Travel

Getting some of the bandwagon out of politics

January 25, 2012 Leave a comment

I like living in a democratically elected republic, it does give one a sense of living in a place where the most possible amount of people feel like they’re getting a fair deal. The elementary idea behind elections are simple, a voter looks at the possible choices of candidates and selects the one that they like the most. I heard a story on NPR the other day which disheartened my faith in our system. In the story a random Iowan named Sharon Layman mentioned how she wasn’t going to vote for Michelle Bachman because she wasn’t doing better in the polls. To me, that’s a horrible reason to not vote for someone, it defeats the idea of picking who you want. But so many people rely on the polls “informing” them as to who the good pick is.

It made me think back to my proposal on how to change elections and I think that if we did change our elections to this model, it would reduce this bandwagon effect. Many people don’t want to vote for the loser; or at least they want to vote for someone who is going to get a large percentage of the vote, because they don’t want to feel like they threw their vote away. Part of the reason for this feeling is that many of the elections in the US are winner takes all. So if there are three candidates all a candidate needs is 34% of the vote to win. They pretty much just need a rounding error. This is why the American political system evolved into a two-party system. Most people would rather go with the person they kind of like, rather than risking voting the person they really like, if it means that the person they really don’t like will then win.

My proposal for voting for what we want doesn’t work for picking candidates within the party. For that, I think that there needs to be two major changes to the current system. First, the vote for each state should be changed to Preferential voting. The results will still be interesting because you can figure out an actual winner, and pundints can figure out how the different candidates looked from the initial cast. Second, the order in which the different states vote should be random for each election cycle. Many people want all of the states to vote at once, but the idea behind why it’s not that way is that a not-well-funded candidate has a chance of competing if they only have to focus on one state at a time, and can build a grass-roots effort. Plus you would get more people feeling like they might have thrown their vote away. I like the possiblity of a politian building up a grass-roots effort, so a handful of states get to vote first, but it should stop being Iowa and New Hampshire every time. I can’t think of a reason to not make the order of the states chosen random.

So there we go, my initial proposal had an additional benefit of watering down the bandwagon affect, and will still result in our representatives representing closer to what we the people want. Sadly many people wouldn’t know what to do without having poll numbers to tell them what to think. It’s like how you look at a tabloid cover and wonder who that “celebrity” is; and it turns out to be someone who’s a celebrity because they’re famous and they became famous for being a celebrity. It makes no sense, but it does sell tabloids. Please, let’s stop this current madness.

Amazon failed to sell me a song

November 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Today I tried to download an mp3 from Amazon.com.  I purchased the song and click on the download button only to download an AWS file.  When I would double click on the AWS file an IE nine window will appear and then disappear.  Eventually I give up on downloading the file and installed the amazon downloader. But the installer installed the amazon’s cloud player instead! I never got the mp3.

I emailed amazon all of the steps I took and with in the hour they emailed me back saying that they’d refund me the purchase. While it’s great I get my money back, I want the song!

Categories: Organizations