[IAEP] What is a Lesson Plan?

Antoine van Gelder antoine at g7.org.za
Tue Jul 8 13:35:17 CEST 2008

On 07 Jul 2008, at 20:19, Edward Cherlin wrote:
>>> Edward wrote:
>>> Writing lesson plans needs to be a whole program in itself,  
>>> integrated with
>>> rethinking textbooks to make use of the available software and to  
>>> implement
>>> Constructionism, or possibly just creating textbooks within  
>>> available
>>> software.
> Nobody has anything to say about this program?

There appears to be some kind of invisible and impregnable force- 
shield surrounding South African schooling which deflects anyone  
wanting to try original approaches to a problem which stubbornly  
resists solving despite repeated applications of the same medicine  
which has had a 100% failure rate for decades now...

...so I ended up deciding to spend a large-ish chunk of last year  
working with a lecturer in the chemical engineering department at one  
of our local universities doing a preliminary investigation into  
developing curriculum using dynamic media.

So, this work deals with undergraduate students but I do think that a  
lot of it would apply to developing dynamic media curriculum for any  
age human.

Some technical considerations:

* Cairo output is breathtakingly gorgeous but rendering performance  
sucks for realtime graphics even with the OpenGL accelerated backend.

* Python is a truly fully hey shoo-wow just plain _awesome_ language  
to hack in but performance has a tendency to suck grievously when it  
comes to realtime simulation and there exists no short-term strategy  
within the Python community for fixing this except for advice to write  
performance-critical code in C or use one of the fast-array- 
manipulation packages. While this is good advice it has the  
unfortunate side-effect of obliterating the educational value of the  
simulation source code itself.

* Despite feeling bad about the fact that the current generation of XO  
hardware would probably get squished by mesa I've been having a lot  
more joy in my life since I switched to a combination of SBCL and cl- 

* That said, I honestly think that eToys is the best of all the  
possible available options right now for any serious curricula  
development work as it involves neither a laborious (but enormously  
enjoyable) reinvention of the wheel, nor waiting-for STEPS to mature  
and - most importantly - understands what you mean when you say  
"Smalltalk inspect." [1]

Some insights gained:

* Given a semester of teaching, any student can learn the concepts  
behind programming in a traditional language but only a handful  
actually enjoy programming enough to want to dig into the simulation  

* However, those students who do not enjoy programming still want to  
dig deeper into the simulation!

* The paradox of graphical programming languages (gpl) [2]  are that:
   - a gpl which makes it easy for anyone to write simple programs is  
difficult to use to write larger programs
   - a gpl which makes it easy to write larger programs is difficult  
for anyone to learn

* The assumption I wanted to challenge is that using a simple special- 
purpose gpl tailored to a specific simulation is in conflict with  
having access to a general-purpose gpl.

* The first part of this challenge was to develop a very simple gpl  
which was specific to the domain of our simulation and letting  
students at it. The non-programming students loved it and the  
programming students immediately wanted to know how they could extend  

* The second part of my challenge will have to wait until I'm able to  
write some more code!

* By far the largest part of the work was spent dismantling curricula  
into its component concepts and figuring out how those concepts  
related to each other. This is important to understand because I think  
a lot of folk have have the intuition [3] that the hard work is coding  
up the simulation system or the simulations themselves but it's not.  
The really really hard part of the work is getting over the  
realization that you, yourself, actually don't understand the  
curricula nearly as well as you thought you did, figuring out how the  
curriculum translates to a simulation, how to represent it in such a  
way that it can still run on something smaller than a 2048 processor  
SGI cluster and how to integrate peacefully with sensitivities to the  
fact that there are limited teaching hours available each semester!


* Developing curricula using dynamic media is hte awesome.

* If the institutional environment you are working with are still  
caught up in the moodle-y [4] excitement it is likely that a  
successful preliminary investigation will be met with looks of  
incomprehension, nervousness and even outright hostility.

* The world is big, the dust shakes easily off our feet and until  
TheDayWhereAllMayFreelyLearnOnline [5] arrives no one is in any danger  
of running out of other institutional environments [6] wherein  
students may be found to roam.

  - antoine

[1] Yeah, I know. Everyone has an opinion and wants to defend it  
vigorously. Well this one is mine. Nyah!
[2] with apologies
[3] Well, I know for a fact that I at least had that intuition before  
I started! :-)
[4] moodle rocks. really. but it's already been done. very well in  
fact. because moodle really. rocks.
[5] Oh wondrous, oh happy day!
[6] Applications are open. Maybe _your_ institution will be the next  
to feel hte awesome!

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