Monday, January 22, 2007

Linus Torvalds

The family spent a cold Maine afternoon browsing at our local Borders. (I know, local and Borders is an oxymoron.) I collected a diversity of books to peruse while having a cup of something warm. My pile included texts on low-fat vegan recipes (a GREAT way to lose weight!), knitting, Barack Obama, and Linux. Of the four books on Linux I chose to peruse, only one was non-techie friendly. I ended up buying it because it is an AMAZING story. Just For Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary by Linus Torvalds and David Diamond is readable, insightful, and fun. The authors even warn you when there is a significantly technical section between pages 39-119. It is technical but if you can read for the story and not for understanding every technical detail you can get a lot out of this section. This memoir of Linus Torvalds' makes the image of a technogeek human. Anyone who uses computers in any fashion should read this story to gain insight into this world.

I was especially struck by one particular section last night and shared it with my class of second-graders this morning. The section is V in Birth of an Operating System. In this section, Linus Torvalds explains how programming can be beautiful. My liberal arts mind was sceptical but I read on and TA DA! I got it! A possible apocryphal story is related about a German math class that had Carl Friedrich Gauss ( a future mathematician) as a student. The teacher was bored and supposedly assigned his students the task of adding up all the numbers from 1 to 100. The teacher assumed this would take a very long time. Gauss reportedly solved the problem in 5 minutes. How did he do this? By recognizing the pattern and using it!
At circle this morning, (I like to gather my students close for big learnings. Learning becomes personal that way and I can engage everyone.) I wrote on the dry erase board.

"Mathematics is recognizing patterns and using them.
There is always a hard way and an easy way to solve a problem.
~Add the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
~What's the answer?
~How did you figure it out?"

Then I told my class about my trip to Borders and how I couldn't find any books on teaching with Linux but I did find
Just For Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary by Linus Torvalds and David Diamond. I told them a teensy bit about Mr. Torvalds and made a connection between him and the K12LTSP workstations in our classroom. We read the dry erase board aloud. One student said, "Oh, so you add 10 + 9 + 8 + 7 + 6 + 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1." Another student blurted, "It's 54!" Before the blurting got out of hand, I wrote out 10 + 9 = 19 + 8 =etc. with the class supplying the answers. Obviously, we calculated 55. Then I asked them if they thought that this was the easy way or the hard way. They all answered "hard". I asked what the easy way would be and a girl who had been relatively quiet up til now said, "There must be a pattern . . .what could it be . . .?" The class already knew that adding can be done in any direction so I asked them to use that idea to look for a pattern. My quiet girl's eyes lit up with excitement. She was babbling so fast, the rest of the class didn't get what she was saying. So I had to write it out for the class~1 + 10 = 11, 2 + 9 = 11, etc and you end up with 5 11's to add up. We tried it with adding up the numbers to 50 and with adding up the numbers to 200. We did use a calculator to do the last bit of math since we haven't quite gotten to multiplication yet but the rest was mental calculations. It was an exciting teaching moment for the class and for me. My quiet student probably got far more out of it than the other students but they got to hear and experience a new idea. We'll go back and look at that idea again and again.

In the meantime, get a copy of Just For Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary by Linus Torvalds and David Diamond from your local library or your local bookstore. It's well worth reading.


Sharon said...

Terrific job. It is so very very refreshing to see web 2.0 tools being used for the collaboration and learning we need in K-12 education. Great idea and great blog.

Gnuosphere said...

Hello. It is nice to see journals like this come up. I hope you consider changing the name to something like "Learning with GNU/Linux: Teaching With FOSS" so that we better teach people and students the origin of this movement.

Take care.

Mrs. W. said...

Thanks to Sharon and Gnusphere for the encouragement. This is exciting work as well as hard work. Please spread the word!

Steve Hargadon said...

Great! Can't wait to see more. I think you'll like the thread that has come up in a number of my interviews on FLOSS: "FLOSS *in* education" versus "FLOSS *as* education." Seems like you'll be able to do both well. I think you might also like some of the stuff on educational blogging--see for a good intro and sites. Keep up the good work!

Billy Davies said...

Great Blog! And great blog idea! A teacher's view is a great asset to the FLOSS community! Keep up the great work! And thanks for the reminder that is learning is indeed fun!