Learning and Applying Mathematics using Computing

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This blog will primarily be about mathematics and computing: using computing to learn and apply mathematics. Both of these subjects suffer (to differing extents) from mis-perceptions, so let’s start by trying to clarify a few things.

Mathematics is often confused with arithmetic (which is only a small part of mathematics). When thinking of maths, many people imagine numbers and figures: 6 + 7, the 9-times-table, and so on. The ability to do numeric calculations in your head is somewhat handy, but this is the 21st century: the calculator app on your phone can add and multiply numbers more reliably than you can. Arithmetic is dull and easily automated. Much more interesting, and more useful, are the steps before you get to the calculator. Understanding and using the concepts and rules is the interesting part of maths: knowing what to calculate is key, not the actual calculation. (NB: North American readers will have to live with my funny-looking abbreviation of math.)

Meanwhile, computing is often confused with IT, system administration or computer repair. Understandably, people who have no experience of computing (because it almost died out in schools) confuse it with what they know to be useful computer skills: fixing the wireless connection, or operating a spreadsheet. But computing is not about using computers; computing is not about using Google, it’s about making Google: how do you create a searchable index of the web that can be queried by a huge network of machines in milliseconds, and how do you decide which page is likely to be the most relevant result? Those are the kinds of interesting problems that you can tackle in computing.

The whole point of this blog is to find some useful areas of overlap between maths and computing, and try to explain some of the points where they cross: I anticipate covering geometry, mechanics (in the physics sense: motion and forces), and probably some probability and statistics too. This blog is for:

  • Those who struggle to see the relevance and practical application of mathematics,
  • Those who know some computing, but struggle with maths (you are not a small group!), and
  • Those who want to accomplish mathematical tasks in their programs, especially geometry: moving at angle, collision detection and so on.

I’ll primarily be using Greenfoot for coding my examples, because developing Greenfoot is my day job — but the principles can always be applied in other 2D frameworks such as Scratch, etc.

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