Monthly Archives: October 2013

Project-Based Learning via Javascript

I’m joining the maker movement!! I’ve been feeling tugged for a long time to teach mathematics using computer science – learning programming as a means to accomplish math goals.  Some of the factors at work are:

– The current math curriculum has been around since long before the computer, and the nature of mathematics in society has changed to become more computer-based.
– Millions of computer science jobs may go unfilled due to a lack of skilled programmers
– In our school district, in a tech hub of northern Colorado, a child can actually choose, in the year 2013, to never take a programming course beyond their sixth-grade tech class.  Ever.  They can actually opt out of learning to program.
– Yet students cannot opt out of learning to solve systems of inequalities with a pencil.  This seems backwards to me.
– My own understanding of mathematics deepened when I learned to program computers.

I made a promise to myself to incorporate programming into my common-core-based seventh-grade math class this year.  This is a heavy promise.  I am not teaching programming as an end in itself (even though I believe that is worthwhile).  I need to integrate the common core standards and teach programming with a purpose.  It is not easy.  Yet I was really proud of the first unit we did and the first unit project my students pulled off.

Our first unit was on congruence transformations.  I gave students the task of creating a computer program that created a design with symmetry.  It had to include two transformations, and they could choose from translations, rotations, and reflections.  They had to describe their transformations in a write-up and explain how they created them.

The platform I chose was Khan Academy’s Javascript. Any programming environment would work.  I considered Scratch, but eventually chose Javascript because of Khan Academy’s easy integration with Google accounts and the class management tools given to teachers.

Here are a few examples of the incredible artwork my students produced with computer programs.  It took several days but was WELL WORTH IT.  I was so impressed with the quality of their writing and their ease with using the difficult math vocabulary.  They really had to think hard about transformations to make their projects work, and the results were nothing short of amazing.

Student work from our programming project on congruence transformations!

Student work from our programming project on congruence transformations!

I didn’t expect the results to be as good as they were, frankly, but it turned out to be a great project not just as a way of introducing programming, but also to really understand congruence transformations deeply.

Here is the rubric I used for the project.

Khan Academy Programming Project

I would really encourage you to try it.  I’ve been emboldened to do more with computer science in math – the key being to hold on to the mathematical purpose behind it.