HS Algebra functions in second grade apps

Like most math teachers, my big concern in a new learning adventure is about efficient use of time with my students.  While my doctoral studies are in STEM curriculum, I always cringe when I hear someone else talk about STEM integration because they usually want me to teach less math so students can have time to build robots instead.  No way!  Last week, though, I made a very productive trek to the computer lab with my high school math students to play with second grade level Code.org.  Here are the takeaways:

  1.  Writing code is writing functions.   Input “move forward” and the output is your character moves forward…every time.  It doesn’t suddenly start jumping up and down.  Yet a good coder can get the same output using different commands. Turn left does the same thing as turn right three times.  So code writing is not one-to-one.
  2. Composing code is the same cognitive process as composing functions.  f(g(x)= (Repeat 3 times (move forward, turn right)).
  3. As students click on “show code,” they realize code commands are mostly intuitive.  They see coding as creative and rewarding.  We talked about how fun it would be to write apps for little kids as an alternative to, say, freelance writing.
  4. Summation and product notation can be related to looping

I know my students now understand better and are much more likely to retain the concept of what a function is.  The time saved not having to re-explain and review makes the trip worthwhile in itself.  A quick, “remember when” is all it takes to hear the, “Oh yeah!”   In the big scheme of things, my job is made much easier when my students are motivated to learn; and showing them an example of a fun career that requires math helps convince students it might be worthwhile to put in the effort.  I’ll be back next year!

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