Tag Archives: computer science

March 18, 2014, 4:34 pm

What should mathematics majors know about computing, and when should they know it?

5064804_8d77e0d256_mYesterday I got an email from a reader who had read this post called What should math majors know about computing? from 2007. In the original article, I gave a list of what computing skills mathematics majors should learn and when they should learn them. The person emailing me was wondering if I had any updates on that list or any new ideas, seven years on from writing the article.

If anything, over the past seven years, my feelings about the centrality of computing in the mathematics major have gotten even more entrenched. Mostly this is because of two things.

First, I know more computer science and computer programming now than I did in 1997. I’ve learned Python over the last three years along with some of its related systems like NumPy and SciPy, and I’ve successfully used Python as a tool in my research. I’ve taken a MOOC on algorithms and read, in whole or in part, books…

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December 18, 2013, 1:25 pm

Dijkstra, radical novelty, and the man on the moon

dijkstraOver three years ago, I wrote a post to try to address a fallacy that is used to refute the idea of novel ways of teaching mathematics and science. That fallacy basically says that mathematics and the way people learn it have not fundamentally changed in hundreds if not thousands of years, and therefore the methods of teaching  that have “worked” up to this point in history  don’t need changing. Or more colloquially, “We were able to put a man on the moon with the way we’ve taught math for hundreds of years, so we shouldn’t change it now.” I sometimes refer to this as the “man on the moon” fallacy because of that second interpretation.

To understand why I think this is a fallacy, read the post above – or better yet, read this long quote from a 1988 paper by Edsger Dijkstra, one of the great scientific minds of the last 100 years and one of the authors of modern…

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April 4, 2012, 8:46 am

Making Computer Science a Requirement?

This US News article points out a growing interest among colleges and universities to make basic computer science a required course for all students. Georgia Tech already does this. The article points out that universities not normally considered to be science/technology-heavy are leaning this way too:

Every student at Montclair State University in New Jersey must complete a computer science in order to graduate. For most students, that course is Introduction for Computer Applications: Being Fluent with Information Technology. (Music majors take Music and Computer Technology I.)

The course is designed to teach students majoring in subjects such as fashion, dance, or art history about network security, artificial intelligence, databases, and e-commerce, says Michael Oudshoorn, chairman of the computer science department at Montclair.

“It’s not aimed at making them experts; it’s…

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January 16, 2012, 8:00 am

So you want to learn to program?

To follow up on my last post about the importance of programming for everyone, I’m making a personal commitment to get my own coding skills up to “halfway-decent” level in 2012. The more I teach with Conrad Wolfram’s TED talk in the back of my mind, and the more I dig into computational geometry as a new research area, the more I see the need to be able to write good code. I’ve tried this before as a sort of lone ranger, sitting down with a terminal window and an O’Reilly book in front of me, with the intent of working through the book, but I never stuck with it. Fortunately, there are more good resources out there than ever to help:

  • There’s CodeYear and Codecademy. Codecademy provides simple, self-guided lessons on programming. Currently there are a number of lessons on Javascript, and there are more lessons in more languages on the way. CodeYear is a layer on top of Codecademy…

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October 21, 2011, 8:51 am

Article about the flipped MATLAB class

As my only real contribution to the blog this week (I’m trying to amortize a stack of Calculus 2 exams before the weekend), I just wanted to announce that Mathworks News & Notes, the trade publication for Mathworks (developers of MATLAB), this quarter has an article about my flipped MATLAB class that I taught at Franklin College. You can download a PDF of the article at the website. That article has been about 9 months in the making. They did the photo shoot in April. (My students come off looking a lot better than I do, which is about right.)

The article does a nice job of explaining the context of the course, why I chose the inverted classroom format for it, and how things went on a day-to-day basis. I am very proud of the course and the work that students managed to do in it, and I’ll be thinking about — and trying to improve upon — that course for years to come. Longtime readers…

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October 17, 2011, 7:30 am

Math Monday: TV Lawyers Solve NP-Complete Problem (part 1)

For the next couple of weeks, Math Monday here at the blog will feature a guest blogger. Ed Aboufadel is Professor of Mathematics and chair of the Mathematics Department at Grand Valley State University, where I work. He’ll be writing a two-part series on a neat appearance of an NP-complete problem on network TV, adding yet another data point that mathematics is indeed everywhere. Thanks in advance, Ed!

On the new USA-network TV series Suits [1], Harvey Specter is a senior partner at the law firm of Pearson Hardman, and Mike Ross is his new associate. Mike never went to law school, but he combines a photographic, elephantine memory with near-genius intelligence to fake it well. Harvey is in on the deception, but none of the other partners know. During the eighth episode of the first season of Suits (broadcast August 11, 2011), Harvey and Mike, working with Louis Litt, a…

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April 8, 2010, 8:17 pm

Analyze, hack, create

One of these days I’ll get back to blogging about the mathematics courses I teach, which make up the vast majority of my work, but the MATLAB course continues to be the place where I am working the hardest, struggling the most, learning the biggest lessons about teaching, and finally having the greatest sense of reward. This week was particularly rewarding because I think I finally figured out a winning formula for teaching a large portion of this stuff.

This was the last in a three-week series on introduction to programming. We had worked with FOR loops already. I had planned to look at WHILE loops in the same week as FOR loops, then have the students play around with branching structures in week 2, then have them apply it to writing programs to do numerical integration week 3 for use in their Calculus II class in which most of the class is currently enrolled. But the FOR loop stuff we…

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February 17, 2010, 9:59 pm

And so it begins: Lab #1 in the MATLAB course

The MATLAB course began in earnest on Monday this week with our first full-length lab activity session. This was the second overall meeting, the first one being some organizational stuff and a lengthy fly-through of the main features of MATLAB. What follows is a breakdown of what we did and how it went, which also serves as an invitation for critique and suggestions in the comments.

First, some context. I intend for this course to be heavily hands-on with an emphasis on self-teaching within reasonable bounds. I laid a ground rule in the first class meeting that any question of the form “How do you do ____ in MATLAB?” was going to be met with the responses “What have you found in the MATLAB help documentation? What have you found via a Google search? What have you found out from your lab partner?” I’m not above giving hints to students in the class, but I insist that they exhaust all…

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November 11, 2008, 3:08 pm

Links for Tuesday

  • What’s that smell? It could be the latest in biometrics.
  • At Slashdot, a discussion on combining computer science and philosophy. I think that, in general, there is a lot of really interesting yet uncharted territory in the liberal arts arising from combining computing with [fill in humanities subject here].
  • Circuit City hits Chapter 11. The only reason I’m sorry to hear about this is because I know people who work for Circuit City who might lose their jobs. But that’s the only reason. There used to be a time, when I was a teenager, when going to Circuit City to paw over all the tech stuff was fun and exciting. Now when I go, it’s a game of “dodge the irritating service rep”.
  • Some nice tips on getting the most out of Google Scholar. Especially useful if, like me, you’re in a place that doesn’t have access to a lot of technical journals.
  • Mike at Walking Randomly is finding symbolic…

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April 13, 2008, 3:53 pm

Crypto two-fer

  • Have you seen the NSA Kids website yet? It’s pretty nifty. High school math and science teachers, you should get your students on there. I am eagerly awaiting somebody to make it into an animated show on Disney or early-morning Discovery Channel for my two girls. (Anything, for the love of God, to displace my 4-year-old’s obsession with Hi-5.) 
  • Also pretty nifty is the Spelman College Science Olympiad, which has teams from historically black colleges and universities competing in teams to solve problems in programming Google Gadgets (Google is a sponsor of the event), cryptography, website design, hardware/software integration, and robotics. All in the space of one weekend! Sounds like a lot of fun, and it seems like a really good way to promote computer science education on the college level. [h/t here to the Official Google Blog]