We’re in an AirBnB in Indianapolis, Indiana. Yesterday, we were playing with some Play-Doh when I decided to throw out a few maths problems for my oldest. We made the equation out of Play-Doh and used shape cutters as numerical representations. Since the kid has been counting for a few years (he learned in Cambodia …. ugh … I love this kid!) he’s learned to add and subtract pretty easily. This time, something took over me and I decided to add the numerical representations on both sides of the equation almost creating an almost algebraic equation (I know there were no letters to represent an unknown number) … and everything clicked!
How algebra works clicked!
That algebra could help us to solve real world problems clicked!
That my K-12 education was lacking due to the fact that I’m just understanding all of this, at this stage of my life clicked!
I woke up this morning still thinking about it. I wanted to make sure I could present some real world applications to my kids. I Googled and came up with this article …. and then I started crying. Apparently, algebra is used to create kick ass computer games like Street Fighter!
Computer programming languages, like C++ or Java, work along similar lines. Inside the computer, a character in a computer game is nothing but a string of symbols. The programmer has to know how to present the character in this way. Moreover, he or she only has a limited number of commands to tell the computer what to do with this string. Computer programming is all about representing a specific context, like a game, by abstract symbols. A small set of abstract rules is used to make the symbols interact in the right way. Doing this requires algebra.
Everything started falling into place. Let’s say that I want to create a fighting game. The moves I have available are: a jump, a kick, a backflip, and a punch. I can arrange those moves in multiple ways to create ‘new’ moves for my character. I could use algebra to represent each move in the code.
This all came together for me from spending 20 minutes playing with my kid. Stuff like this is why I love worldschooling. After elementary, middle school, high school, undergrad, and grad school I didn’t understand any of what I just wrote (but apparently, my educators may not have either). 20 minutes at the table with my four year old and some Play-Doh and now I’m super pumped about algebra and coding.
Worldschooling for the win!