Computers in education

Children enjoying some time reading at their desktops.
The debate over computers in the schools has finally come¬† around to giving naysayers equal time. There was an article in the Sunday New York Times regarding a school in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley that teaches math, music, and other standard elementary school subjects in a computer-free environment.Computers are touted as an enhancer for learning in education. However, data is unclear as to whether they do anything at all. There appear to do some things better, such as helping us to visualise certain concepts such as transformations in graphs in math. But it doesn’t help matters if by grade 10 a student is still lunging for his or her calculator to figure out 7×6.

A famous american president, reading at his desktop.
The Waldorf school in the article appeared to have caught on to the idea that in order to learn something, your brain should be doing the work. A machine shouldn’t be doing the work for you. Otherwise, you are accepting your own obsolescence, and admitting to the world that you are replaceable by a machine.There is no substitute for a live, human teacher or the child’s own parent in helping a child learn. The Waldorf school bans computers up to at least grade 8, afterward allowing limited access to computer technology. Most user interfaces are braindead simple these days anyway. It takes you minutes to learn how to use your iTouch device. These days, if you have to read a manual to learn the operation of a new computer gizmo, the designers have failed. Windows and OSX are designed that way too. The learning of how to use a computer is easier than it has ever been, and students lose nothing by delaying their exposure to computers to a later age.

Version 2 of the TI Nspire operating system

My main complaint about the Nspire and Nspire CAS, the need to have some kind of input statement in its programmnig language, looks like it is closer to reality. I just have to fiddle with it some more to see if it can really place data in tables (or now, spreadsheets), and see if I can really do I/O in a running program as was the case for the TI-84 family. To be clear, I am not using the new “touchpad” version of the CAS, I am using the slightly older version, which had the original keyboard.

When I did a test statement

Request "---> ", j
and ran it, the calculator came back with a screen using “–>” as a prompt, and a blank for me to input something. I entered “36”, then the input window disappeared, then the string

--> 36
was output. The input window seems cumbersome.  That could be because I like command line input, and think it has less memory overhead on a device where every byte of RAM is precious.

At any rate, the value is stored in j, and this was proven by doing the multiplication

4j
and I got 144. This was on a calculator whose memory was cleared due to the OS upgrade. The cursor is much more sensitive, and there is a noticeable speed impovement over prior OS versions.

I tried to make a simple program, and got nowhere with the Request statement, when I placed it inside a FOR/END FOR loop in a named program.

Rube-Goldberg Machines V

Another one. A couple of years ago, this was a Honda Accord commercial, and it caused quite a sensation when it got released. It took over 606 takes and cost over 6 million dollars to make. Any minor misfirings resulted in having to set everything up from scratch, all over again. It was a 2-minute ad spot which was released in the UK in 2006.

Binary adding machine using marbles

My marble adding machine in action. More at http://woodgears.ca/marbleadd

What impressed me is not just the fact that it looks like it could be used as 1) a great woodworking project, and 2) a great computer science tool in grade 10.

There is another video that explains the mechanics behind this adding machine a little better: