Monday, January 24, 2011

Maybe We Can Know the Source of Pseudocontext After All

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post asking if we could know the sources of pseudocontext.  I came to the conclusion that there are too many people involved in writing a textbook to point a finger.  I am currently reading Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, written by Angeline Stoll Lillard and published by Oxford University Press in 2005.  I may finally have someone to point at for pseudocontext, Edward Lee Thorndike.

Edward Lee Thorndike was  a Professor of Psychology at Columbia University's Teachers College.  He started at Teachers College in 1899, when our modern educational system was forming. 

According to Lillard (p. 11):
Thorndikes's textbooks are classic illustrations of the decontextualized material common in American textbooks today.  For example, one Thorndike textbook problem is: "Tom had six cents in his bank and put in three cents more.  How many cents were in the bank then?"  (Thorndike, 1917, p. 18)  The reader knows nothing about Tom or his bank, and so must process disembodied information.  In contrast, the problems one regularly encounters outside of school tend to have a meaningful context.
 Lillard then starts the next paragraph with:
Thorndike believed that children could not transfer learning from one context to another unless elements of the situation were identical, so supplying context was useless.
I was so excited by locating someone else calling out pseudocontext, although not by name, that I couldn't finish reading until I got back to my computer.  I can't wait to dig up more information soon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The First Python Project for Contemporary College Mathematics

I just finished my first Python project for my Contemporary College Mathematics class.  The goal of the project is to have the students download Python and run one script.  The script takes there name and adds the ASCII values of the characters in their name.  The sum is my way of checking if they did the work.  You can find the instructions on Google Docs here.  The directions are a Microsoft 2010 document that was converted to Google Docs format. 

The script is below.  You can download it here, or cut and paste it from this page.

def string_to_sum(in_string):
    sum = 0
    for a in in_string:
        sum = sum + ord(a)
    return sum

in_string = raw_input('Please type your name. ')
sum = string_to_sum(in_string)
print 'Thank you,', in_string, '.  Your output number is', sum

temp = raw_input('Press Enter to exit.')

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Now, Where Did I Put That Blog?

Oh!  Here it is.

I've been away for quite a while.  I was happy to not worry about math or teaching for two weeks.  I always need a break to recharge the batteries before the new semester.

The college started back with registration on Monday.  I've been busy with advising and preparing for teaching.  Now that I've got a bit of spare time, I'll share a few projects for this semester of which will be interesting to the mathematically and scientifically minded:
  1. Course redesign for developmental mathematics.  The phrase "course redesign" sends the same chills down college faculty's back in the same way as the phrase "education reform" does for public school teachers.  Fortunately for our college, the local administration has been willing to meet the faculty half-way on redesign.  I'll share more on this as the semester progresses.
  2. Introducing computer projects in Contemporary College Mathematics.  I like liberal arts math because it has fun topics for me, and the students are not too stressed about math.  Once they realize that I'm not out to kill them (in this class) then they relax and are ready to learn.  My goal is to use Python with logic, voting theory, and statistics.  This is an experiment for me, so I won't be too worried if it fails.  Don't worry, I won't let the students suffer if it does fail.
  3. Find something interesting to talk about at KYMATYC.  I gave a good talk last year, and I would like to do it again.  The KYMATYC conference is fun to attend.  It's usually before Spring break, so the weather is nice.  It is held at a state park, which means hiking.  Also, the people in KYMATYC are nice, so I look forward to seeing them each year.
  4. A super-secret project that I won't talk about until later.  I'm afraid to jinx it.  I will say that if it pans out, my community college will go where no community college has gone before.
 It's going to be a busy semester.  Good luck to those of you who are starting your own semester.