For several years I have been hearing about the powerful connections between math and coding. These two subjects are essential to providing a strong mathematical and 21st century education to our students. I needed to get learning! Through my invaluable #PLN, I frequently heard about Seymour Papert and his Book: Mindstorms: Children Computers and Powerful Ideas and so despite my personal learning issues with math, and lack of coding experience, I began to read.
Throughout parts of the book I had to practice a growth mindset. There were parts of the book that resonated with me as a learner and there were parts of the book that contributed to my sense of inability to ever grasp math, which was frustrating.
Although the main theme of the book is about how children learn, and there were many examples about coding and math, there were many concepts that resonated with me as a non-math learner:
- using a computer can help make the math learning process more natural than formal math structures used in schools
- learning with computers may impact the way we learn about other things
- mathematics and math are not the same thing and if we teach our students in “Mathland” they will be fluent in math
- early negative experiences with math can limit a student’s definition of themselves and their abilities and have lifelong consequences for the student
- coding provides opportunities for students to practice grit, determination and resiliency
- debugging skills in coding transfer to all aspects of problem solving
- coding is much more than algorithms; it is a language
For someone like me, math has a wrong and a right answer. After many “wrong” answers, we begin to believe that we ‘can’t do math’ and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Papert believed these fixed ‘right and wrong’ experiences contribute to “mathphobia” (42) which create self-fulfilling, negative situations for many students. Mathphobia creates the idea that there are things that cannot be learned which has a profound impact on the a student’s sense of his/her ability to learn throughout life Teaching our students to code provides students with authentic, student centred learning that allows them to relate to the learning.
Papert makes the connection between providing authentic learning for students, especially in math, so that they can incorporate new learning with life experiences. Creating meaningful connections between math and personal life experiences makes
“The difference between what he ‘could’ and ‘could not’ learn did not depend on the content of the knowledge but on his relationship to it” (65)
I will admit that there were times when Papert and his research made this read challenging, but I am glad that I persevered. Learning to code, and learning about math is not about me, my obstacles or you. It is about our students. Mindstorms presents a thorough foundation between learning, mathematics, and coding and we owe it to our students to understand these connections to ensure that we are providing the best learning opportunities for our students.