Being a father is one of the most important parts of my identity. So I am trying to make sense of fatherhood in this new blog series which I am calling Father Stories. I find value in writing about the things most important to me and that writing can lead to some clarity. Maybe I am writing this blog because I think of fatherhood as an accomplishment. But, being a father is very different from other life accomplishments like completing a degree program, getting a job, or winning an award. These accomplishments are framed by ambition and the tireless pursuit of a specific goal. They usually have a defined process and timeline. On the other hand being a father is subtle, protracted, blurry, and timeless. It is changing diapers and countless hours on a playground. It is a difficult conversation followed by a walk through Morningside Park. It is saying no, getting treated poorly, but still feeling like you did the right thing. It is an unexpected hug and a meaningful exchange when you least expect it. It is your children wanted to go camping in the woods because it means spending time with you even though that might not be the way it is expressed by your adolescent child. Writing these few examples down is emotional for me because it touches upon deep parts of myself. …


On a recent family trip we delayed our start of the day in a cabin for a few hours because of a morning rainstorm. I usually get antsy when I can’t get going first thing in the morning, but between the beautiful damp forest, the soothing sound of rainfall, and the fascinating accumulation of water on the bottom of the roof I was pretty content just sitting and experiencing the rain. I even took this video of it on my phone.

As I was sitting there admiring the beautiful artwork that nature was creating in front of me, I considered how I might capture some of it artistically. Unfortunately, I lacked a macro lens to make the raindrops a prominent subject of a photograph. Additionally, my painting skills are not developed enough to give justice to the nuanced beauty of this scene. …


In previous articles I have sometimes used the word simulation to describe my p5.js sketches. But what is a simulation? What does it mean to create a simulation of a natural phenomena? Some movies such as the Matrix have portrayed the human condition as a simulation. The conspiracy theory of a higher set of beings who generated a contrived context for humans might be a bit much for me. But if you take out the conspiracy and the higher beings perhaps thinking of the world we live in as a simulation has some merit. According to Physics the universe is made up of a collection of matter and energy which is in a particular state. Over time this state changes with apparent compliance to certain universal laws that have been defined by scientists. So we can call the progression of the universe through these states a simulation on an immense scale. …


This Spring during the COVID-19 lockdown I was spending a lot of time in my home. Much of that time was dedicated to my school job and spending time with my family. But given that I stopped commuting, was living with teenage children who have their own lives, and was prevented from doing many of the activities that usually consume my time, I was on the lookout for a new project.

So I took up drawing and painting. I have always loved photography. Taking walks, looking closely at the world around me, and attempting to capture it in the camera frame is a good match for my personality. Good photography is about becoming aware and in tune with your surroundings. So I wondered if drawing and painting might increase my awareness and build upon what I already love about photography. …


When I was 17 years old I fell in love with Physics. School was not always an easy place for my teenage self. I was a slow reader and my diagnosis of attention deficit disorder came with frequent distractions in the classroom. But along came this body of extraordinary ideas within which my learning challenges seemingly disappeared. I immediately knew that Physics was the subject for me.

Over the past 30 years I have studied Physics, taught Physics and engaged in many debates about Physics. Lately I have been looking for new ways to explore creative expression on the computer. I love the way computers can display moving forms on the screen bringing art to life. As art is a powerful way to evoke emotions in others, I wonder if computer art can convey the emotions I experienced when I first fell in love with Physics. …


Before I can do much of anything such as cook a meal, calculate the forces on a projectile, or solve a math puzzle, I first need to get some aspects of the world around me into my brain. This process can be called representation because the ideas in my head represent what I perceive to be in the world. Once they are in my head I can use them in my thinking and actions.

When you doing something with a computer you also do this, but you additionally need to represent things in ways that are amenable to the structure of computers. Yet despite its importance Representation is not listed as one of the practices or concepts in the CSK12 standards. …


It has taken me a long time to write this blog post. One might be surprised given that the current pandemic is rich with computational applications. The major news outlets have been voraciously popularizing computational models and mathematical thinking like never before. Later in this post I will share some of my favorite examples. But given all these opportunities why am I struggling to start writing and coding on COVID-19? To add to the surprise, despite my fairly busy role supporting remote learning plan for a preK-12 private school, and spending extra time with my wife and two teenage children in a tiny NYC apartment, I still seem to have extra time on my hands. I have been going on runs, bikes, long walks, listening to audio books, and reading more news than I should. I even seem to be getting sleep. …


While preparing for Sensational Science with Scratch, a workshop at STEM Teachers NYC, I got into a conversation with @JulietteScience (co-presenter) about other ways to include coding in the science classroom. I found out she is running a Trout in the classroom project at her school with 4th graders. Trout in the classroom involves setting up a large tank where you raise trout eggs to be released into the wild. It is a trout repopulation strategy. I was immediately interested because setting up a tank of fish is essentially creating a model of a natural river system. You need to have the correct temperature, food supply, pH level, etc. so that the system is balanced and the conditions are conducive to fish survival. You are essentially building a simulation with live fish; and I love simulations. In fact if you think about it, the natural river system is a simulation as well where a set of scientific laws determine how the state of the system updates over time. You might even argue that all of biology can be thought of as a simulation. As I described in a previous post evolution certainly works this way. In his book, The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins writes, “It is raining instructions out there; it’s raining programs; it’s raining tree-growing, fluff-spreading, algorithms. That is not a metaphor, it is the plain truth. It couldn’t be any more plain if it were raining floppy discs. (Dawkins, p111)” Antiquated media storage terminology aside, that is what I believe makes computational modeling such a powerful way to think deeply about scientific ideas. By creating a computer model of a natural system and seeing how it develops you gain insights about how the system works, what factors are important and what trends emerge. The model does not have to be precisely accurate to expand your thinking. In fact it’s limitations are just as thought provoking as its accuracies. …


After recently posting on my Computing Stories blog I connected with @techymath who has done great work with computation in the math classroom. His book Math Adventures with Python looks really good. While tweeting with him he turned me onto the puzzle maker @1to9puzzle. I discovered that @techymath sometimes uses Python to solve @1to9puzzle’s challenges. I was immediately intrigued and decided that I would try to do the same with the next posted puzzle. This is the weekend puzzle that I focused on.

First I printed it out, and in the process of thinking through how I would code it, I got addicted to solving the puzzle on paper. This was not the first time I got obsessed with a puzzle. There is something exciting about developing a clever method to crack a puzzle. My strategy for this puzzle was as follows. I wrote the seven possible numbers in each open box. Then using the given constraints including unique numbers in rows, columns and boxes as well as the white box constraints, I crossed out all the impossible values. I found myself reviewing each constraint multiple times, crossing things out and then using that to eliminate other numbers. After about an hour of puzzling I had come to an answer which I DM’d to the author. Actually my method alerted me to the fact that the puzzle has two solutions. I was proud of having solved it and I almost forgot about the fact that I had originally planned to use computing. …


Recently I was trying to find a way to make my coding collaborations sound more dramatic. Picture a collaborative project as a blazing fire and then imagine me as a capable fire fighter sitting at the ready in the station. So when a math teacher emailed me the other day and wrote, “I may have found a problem we can collaborate on. Meet me downstairs.” I found myself looking for a pole to slide down and some life saving equipment to grab. Sadly, I had to settle for my laptop and a pair of reading glasses. The analogy does not really work, but perhaps I have conveyed how excited I get about coding in the classroom. We met in the cafeteria in the afternoon after the lunch service had ended. He pulled out his computer and showed me a problem posted on fivethirtyeight.com

About

Greg Benedis-Grab

exploring the intersection of coding, education and disciplinary knowledge

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