Programming the Maths Curriculum

This was written as a response to Pete Bell’s blogpost ICT and Computing in Schools – Harness a new dawn

Show me the money
Show me the money (image by me)

AQA have attempted (2009)to take this issue seriously and consulted IBM, British Aerospace and other big corps to identify what they want from graduates. The answer, according to Barbara Wilson – chief examiner at the time – was business-savvy young people who understand how technology can add value to an organisation and the complicated process of implementing tech successfully. The new ICT A Level spec attempts to do this. I quite like it. Paper projects are still a problem. I hope to see the end of these shortly, but it is not easy to nurture the real-life project process without interaction (research, deliverables, testing) with users and clients. A controlled assessment approach might otherwise be a good idea. Fixed time frame. A range of problems set by the board. Effectively a practical exam.

The BIO takes this format but it is quite raw and difficult programming and I think there in lies part of the problem no-one seems to talk about. Programming is hard. [The one student I enter for the BIO – he got distinction last year – is the best mathematician the school has seen in 20 years.] I guess that’s why these conversations inevitably encourage everyone to start learning code young. I might, maybe after a pint, argue that all the visual programming simulators (Scratch et al) are doing a diservice to the cause. In Bob Noyce‘s final interview (in the 1990’s) he said that, if he were in charge of it all, he would like to “make sure we are preparing our next generation to flourish in a high-tech age. And that means education of the lowest and the poorest, as well as at the graduate school level.” I’m not sure these immediate gratification software applications are the answer. Love them as I do. The joy of programming is writing lines of code to achieve a solution to a problem – not make a game or an animation. Who would be interested in programming to visually uninteresting outcomes after the rich loveliness and quick win play of KODU.

My cigarette packet solution is the Maths curriculum. Maths is already embedded in the heart of every school and connected to programming via algorithms and logical sequencing etc. I feel that the most effective and efficient way we can impregnate coding into UK schools is via the same route as algebra and geometry. Who should we be talking to? Those in charge of Maths. What’s the probability of them saying yes? One or zero.

Programming the Maths Curriculum

4 thoughts on “Programming the Maths Curriculum

  1. @petejbell says:

    Interesting post, Dai!
    I think Maths could indeed take some of this up. Steve Furber seemed to think that was one solution and it may, therefore, end up as one of the Royal Society’s recommendations, but that is really just speculation. It’s interesting that I’ve heard from representatives of CAS and various universities (including the OU, Manchester and Cardiff) and all say the same thing; they do not necessarily need people who can write one (or more) particular language. Far more appealing to them are people who have solid problem solving and critical thinking skills (as I believe can be delivered and developed within the AQA A level to which you refer). This goes outside of the Maths remit, in my opinion. Furthermore, these academics agree that an understanding of pseudo code would be very useful, as well as a fundamental understanding of the basic constructs of programming, as is provided by applications like Scratch. Although the use of Scratch (or iterations of it, like Sense [see my previous post on this]) does not have to involve game creation, it can be a useful hook for students early on (and one valid approach) but I too have concerns that it may be overused in some centres and may, therefore, give students the impression that programming=games design.
    Look forward to seeing you again on Sunday night, I hope 🙂

    1. Anonymous says:

      Thanks for reply Pete. Here rather than on your post. 🙂

      I think your points are fair. Particularly on our friend Scratch and his kin. I might disagree on the Maths point though. I think this is the best way in. And that can only be done at the next cycle of specification review/development so that teachers are required to teach it to feed the league tables. It’s not my cup of tea, but if we are looking to see tipping point change in the next decade, how else might it happen?

      One more Scratch point. If we are talking about programmers or coders or the like, I think my earlier thought holds more water. Are there any programmers who got hooked via these GUI platforms? Maybe it’s too early to tell. If the universities want problem-solvers then there are other means of achieving this.

  2. Sadly it’s 0.

    You’re right. But as long as the current governement are reviewing the curriculum (where I see zero chance of them integrating something like this into the Maths curriculum) and as long as schools are primarily measured on 5A*-C with English & Maths then the vast majority of schools will not allow their Maths departments to branch out and take risks on something that doesn’t appear at skin deep to contribute towards the final GCSE exam.

    But a few of us will do our best in our own lottle spaces 😉

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