You’re the Variable

Alfred Thompson, Computer Science Teaacher, May 27, 2016
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Algebra has once again come under challenge and in response there have been the usual defenses, such as this article on why we need algebra. To me (as I do things like measure the amount of paint required to cover a four bedroom house) the answer is pretty clear. But people like Andrew Hacker argue it should be dropped from the curriculum because it's a leading cause of dropouts. In my own education, the concept of abstraction confounded me; I didn't really get it until graduate school. That's because it was always based on memorization, which renders it pointless and abstruse.  But it doesn't have to be this way. What if we taught it differently, experientially, by making people the variables. Imagine, for example, this wonderful technique employed by Alfred Thompson where students form the variables. He intends it for basic computing algorithms, but there's no reason students couldn't be challenged to create more and more involved and complex 'human machines'. The possibilities are endless. (p.s. have them communicate by email instead of by voice and you've also invented rudimentary people-based service-oriented architecture).

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