2019: The Year of Making Coding Hot in Math Education

I was having breakfast one morning at my brother’s place in California in July of 2016. We go there every summer for two weeks to hang out with his family. My sister-in-law gave me a copy of a New York Times Magazine from April of that year. She had kept it for me to read. The cover is the picture above.

I read the article twice. The second time trying to make mental reminders of some of the ideas that I saw would hopefully and eventually become tattooed to math education.

Fast forward to 2019, and hope has arrived in the form of two “tattoo artists” and their timely, accessible, and futuristic books on the power of coding as a foray into math appreciation and understanding. Their names are Brian Aspinall and Peter Farell. Both of their books will be released this year. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to read their books prior to official release. Brian asked me to provide a foreword for his book. I first met Brian back in 2017, when we both spoke at The Fields Institute. Ever since, we have become kindred disruptors! Peter, who resides out in California, is a like-minded math educator who I follow on Twitter. He kindly asked if I could give a review of his book.

I am always honored when people ask me to give input on their creations — especially when it deals with advancing bold ideas in math education.

Below is a fun sketchnote of Brian’s 10 Reasons to Teach Coding. What I love about his list is that he deals with the NOW. While there are wonderful benefits of learning coding in terms of potential career opportunities, that is not why Brian advocates learning coding. They are many of the same same reasons I use for learning mathematics. The carrot of “better jobs” sells learning both these ideas horribly short.

It also effectively siphons out the playful, joyful, and social value of learning in school.

In his book Block Breaker, Brian imaginatively surfs the rich ideas about Minecraft and merges them not only with the current pedagogy of the most disruptive ideas in education, but he does so with empathy and emotional connection — ideas I consider invaluable and almost non-negotiable for any teacher. The entire book is written with humor and a deft understanding of the power of using learning as socialization and socialization as learning.

There isn’t a dry moment in the book!

Coding has been around since the 1950’s, and there have been hundreds of books written on the subject. But, almost all have been geared towards academics and those in the programming community. And, while ideas like STEM-Learning have facilitated coding becoming more popular in classrooms, few books have come out to invite non-coding teachers to join the party — especially in the whimsical and persuasive ways that Brian and Peter have done.

Like Brian’s book, Peter’s Math Adventures In Python: An Illustrated Guide to Exploring Math With Code, the writing style in is wholly geared to inspiring a new generation of teachers and students to go on the coding journey. The section titles speak to that:

As you can see from the Chapter titles, the topics are rich dives into the ones found in high school. So, between both books, the entire elementary to secondary panel of coding is covered.

For me, and I suppose for many others as well, I can tell if I am going to like the book by the very first pages. I need to be hooked. I need to know that captivating stories lie ahead. With both Brian and Peter, their advocacy of coding comes packaged in the human details of storytelling and reflections of what we used to do and what we need/should do now.

Here is how I got hooked on

Did you catch that? Why? A few minutes in, and I am hooked. The whole book resonates with the “Why” and never looks back…

One of the things that I explicitly and implicitly push in all my articles is that mathematics has to be joyful adventure. For coding to have similar traction, it requires the imagination of educational experts in this field to communicate with inclusion and passion.

With both these books, I am confident that this year will mark a bold step towards the playful merging of mathematics and coding in the classroom.

Thank you, Brian and Peter for your creative efforts! Your books are a collective call to all of us to (re)examine the positive and engaging benefits of coding in the math classroom.

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Sunil Singh is the author of Pi of Life: The Hidden Happiness of Mathematics(Rowman and Littlefield, 2017) and Math Recess: Playful Learning in The Age of Disruption(IMPress, 2019)

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