A quick response to Michael Pershan’s response to Henri Picciotto

Michael Pershan and Henri Picciotto have been having an interesting exchange on Twitter about teaching computer programming to kids.

Here’s one bit from Henri:

and one from Michael:

But, don’t just restrict yourself to these two pieces. Even with the obvious limitations of Twitter, the entire discussion between them is really interesting.

One passage in particular in the Michael Pershan’s piece linked above caught my eye:

If we mandate schools to democratize access to privileged knowledge, we will finally eliminate schooling inequities, right? It feels silly to even point this out, but that is obviously impossible. There is an unending race between privilege and access in our schools. If you require school to teach every kid coding, privileged kids will create a Super Coding elective and slap that on their transcripts. You can’t stop privileged kids from having access to privileged knowledge. (They decide what counts as privileged knowledge.)

The example I’d like to counter with comes from Quanta magazine’s profile of Maryam Mirzakhani:

Marayma Mirzakhani: A tenacious explorer of abstract surfaces

Eager to discover what they were capable of in similar competitions, Mirzakhani and Beheshti went to the principal of their school and demanded that she arrange for math problem-solving classes like the ones being taught at the comparable high school for boys. “The principal of the school was a very strong character,” Mirzakhani recalled. “If we really wanted something, she would make it happen.” The principal was undeterred by the fact that Iran’s International Mathematical Olympiad team had never fielded a girl, Mirzakhani said. “Her mindset was very positive and upbeat — that ‘you can do it, even though you’ll be the first one,’ ” Mirzakhani said. “I think that has influenced my life quite a lot.”

I guess what my too-long-for-a-tweet thought was something like this – you just never know how kids are going to react to a class (or anything, I suppose). But, if the door isn’t open, they can’t walk through it.

Fawn Nguyen’s fraction puzzle

Saw this old blog post from Fawn Nguyen making the rounds again this week:

Drawing Rectangles instead of Writing Equations

and decided to give the problem a try with the kids this morning.

Here’s the problem: In a town, 3/7 of the men are married to 2/3 of the women. What fraction of the people in the town are married?

I did the problem with pairs of snap cubes instead of marriage. Here’s now it went:


After they finished their solution, I showed them Fawn’s solution. My younger son was a little confused about adding fractions versus what’s going on in this problem. Hopefully that confusion was straightened out by the end of the video.


So, another nice problem from Fawn. It is fun to be able to talk through a non-standard fraction problem like this one with the boys.