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How computational thinking has changed professional sports

Billy Beane

Billy Beane

Computational thinking is a really valuable approach or our students to problem solve and introduce them to the world of coding, algorithms and computer science.  It is often difficult to find examples of real world computational thinking that engages students.  

Recently I watched the film 'Moneyball' which upon reflection was a great example of computational thinking in action in which all four elements (decomposing, pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithmic design.) were used to achieve a positive outcome.  I hope you find story useful in better understanding computational thinking and also translating that to your students.

Billy Beane was an average baseball player  shipped around America’s Major League competition in the eighties until he realised he could not achieve the heights he dreamed of, and the teams hiring him realised Billy Beane was not going to take them to the ‘Promised Land.’

Post playing career Billy was hired by the Oakland A’s as their general manager to try and bring them a championship.  Five years into the role Billy came to the realisation that he was trying to win an unfair game.  And it was all because the MLB does not have a salary cap for purchasing players.

This was highlighted in 2001 when the New York Yankees faced the Oakland A’s in a regular season game which drew no major significance except for this...

Team Salary Cap Comparison

Team Payroll Comparison

New York Yankee’s: $144 million

Oakland A’s:  $39 million

Beane conceded his Oakland A’s were little more than a talent incubator for wealthier teams to poach and decided in 2002 things must change or else his career as General Manager would yield the same results as his career as a player.

Against 100 years of tradition and thousands of ‘experts’ advice Beane essentially disbanded the Oakland A’s scouting and development group and entrusted it to Paul De Podesta who was a Harvard Economics Graduate student who knew little about baseball but everything about solving data driven challenges.  He was a great computational thinker.

De Podesta’s mantra was that the Oakland A’s would no longer invest in buying players but would invest in buying win shares.  Beane advised De Podesta as to the statistics and data he believed made an indisputable difference to the win loss column they began statistically to break down every player in Baseball to a single  piece of data  identifying  what impact they had upon winning based upon their salary.

De Podesta identified superstars who were phenomenally overpaid, and nobodies who were absolute steals based upon their measly salaries.

De Podesta

De Podesta

De Podesta  and Beane exemplified all four elements of Computational thinking during this process.

  • De Podesta decomposed their current situation, the elements of success in baseball every player in MLB to a series of statistical value.

  • Beane identified statistical patterns, sequences and structures that occurred in winning baseball teams.

  • They abstracted opinion and discounted irrelevant data which that is unproven in influencing wins and losses in baseball.

  • De Podesta created an algorithm for success based upon statistical data and salary which reinvented the Oakland A’s team and still fit well within their salary limit.

Oakland started the season poorly under a cloud of criticism from all corners of the baseball world.  Outwardly it appeared as if Oakland traded or dumped their most treasured players and replaced them with trash.

Amidst early mounting losses and criticism both Beane and De Podesta believed they had done their research and stood by their formula for success.

To cut a long story short the Oakland A’s started to become the team which Beane and Depodesta envisioned even though they were in the eyes of many nothing more than a washed up, rag tag B league team.

They went on the longest winning streak in professional baseball in a century (20 games) and finished atop their division with a win loss record of 103-59.  This was exceptional when considering they had a losing record over the first third of the season.

They did not win the championship in 2002 but the Boston Redsox adopted Beane and DePodesta’s “moneyball”  approach in 2003 and won the ultimate prize in 2004.  

Beane was offered the highest paying contract in sports amangement in 2003 by the Boston Redsox which he turned down. He is still the GM of the Oakland Athletics.

DePodesta has moved around multiple U.S sporting teams and even leagues to share his Computational Thinking  approach to winning and losing which is valued by nearly every major professional sport as an essential element for accountability and success.


Getting a 'Techie Brekkie" up and running at your school

So the concept is simple and definitely not one that I can lay claim to.  Put on a nice breakfast and invite teachers to come and learn short bites of information they can begin using in the classroom the same day.

The 'Techie Brekkie" has become a popular way for ICT, Learning Technologies or whatever you want to call it to claw back some professional learning time from the heavy after school meeting schedule which is mainly dominated by literacy and numeracy.

This presentation below outlines some of the key things you might want to remember when running a techie brekkie that make it different from a traditional professional development session.

I am sure that many of you may have run a session of your own and I would love to add a comment in the section below that might help others even more.  Enjoy.

 

Dumb things our education systems do. Handwriting

More often than not when I read an article related to education it has a negative connotation  generally fitting into one of the following categories.

  • Our Teachers are failing students.
  • Technology and students are a terrible mix, get rid of it.
  • Back in my day everyone could read write and count. Why cant they now?
  • Why aren't we more like (Insert Country name here.) who does education far better than us.

Occasionally, the odd good news story breaks through, but they are few and far between.

Having worked in education for over a decade I have see some of the most inspiring through to disengaged members of our community which are part of a massive machine we refer to as  the "Education System".  In Australia we account for one of the largest sectors of the workforce.

This year, I am setting out to point out that all too often our 'Education System' like many others around the world quite simply broken by hypocrisy, outdated thinking and stubbornness which fail our teachers and students from ever reaching their full potential.  Most of my points would be 99 percent invisible to the community and very easily rectified.  Whilst some of these items may seem small and trivial they add up quickly and are simply unnecessary.

Today, I am going to highlight the Australian handwriting debacle which is a cut and dried example of commerce winning over common sense.  Whilst I am specifically addressing Australia here this is repeated in other education systems around the world.

So here we go...  I am going to hit you with the simple facts first...

  • Australia is constructed of states and territories which had exclusive control of their own curriculum until recently when the Australian Curriculum was conceived back in 2008.  It is still being rolled out to bring consistency across the nation for teachers and students.
  • Somehow, Somewhere, Someone decided each state should have it's own style of handwriting students should be using purely based upon where they live.
  • These handwriting styles are almost identical which is demonstrated in the image below courtesy of kidzcopy.com.au  

Stick with me here because this is where it gets Dumb!! If not a little unethical

  • Any educator or contractor wishing to make a resource such as an Alphabet poster or a handwriting book in Australian schools has to create five versions of the exact same thing to ensure  it can be used from Broome to Bondi.  Making it time consuming and expensive even though our curriculum is now national.
  • Most of these fonts are commercially licensed (and expensive as seen in the table below.)  So if a teacher, and even a mum, dad or student wish to make a resource they have to pay to do so.  

So here are my questions regarding what I, and many others see as just plain dumb.  Maybe someone far smarter than me can explain the answers.

  • In 2016 why do we have different fonts for each state?
  • Who decided South Australia's font was unsuitable for Victoria and so on?
  • Why do our teachers, students and parents have to buy a license to use them for purely educational purposes?
  • Who is profiteering from this experience?  Is it the education departments or some commercial group?
  • How does having to pay to produce and use 5 different fonts help our teachers and students in any way?
  • How do we fix this small but dumb element of our education system?  

Here is my solution.  The Victorian Department of Education are obviously far more progressive than their neighbours and make their font (Victorian Modern Cursive) freely available to all.  

Let's (All Teachers) just adopt it as the Australian Handwriting Font and make our teachers and students lives easier by refusing to produce anything that requires a paid font.  You can download the Victorian Font here.

We don't have to keep doing DUMB things in the future just because we have done it in the past.

I would greatly appreciate your answers and thoughts regarding this topic and love to hear what elements of education you see that you think are just DUMB!!! I have more to come.

LEGO updates their robotics lineup for juniors

LEGO have done a great job over the last few years by providing students and teachers with the tools to create some really innovative robotics opportunities in the classroom.

Lego Mindstorms EV3 got an overhaul a few years back which kept it relevant for kids aged 12 and up, but their junior range of robotics known as WE-DO was a little uninspiring for younger kids who expected a little more from a product classified as a robotics tool.

This year at CES LEGO unveiled WE-DO 2.0 which allows for for a far more complex range of programming options, all new teaching resources and connectivity with all major wireless devices such as the iPad.

Best of all it is cheaper and has a LOT less parts than EV3 which is important when this equipment is being shared by hundreds of kids.

We-Do 2.0 now offers a logical programming experience that can be translated to from skills learnt on popular platforms such as scratch and Tynker.

Check out the videos and links below for more information.

LEGO WeDo 2.0 resources

Lego WeDo Bit by Brick programming platform

5 S.TE.M gifts for coders, makers and computational thinkers

With only a few weeks until Christmas many parents may not realise they have a budding Henry Ford in the making who just needs a spark to light a fire to ignite ingenuity and creativity.

Today, we are going look at five gifts that offer your kids to problem solve, code, identify patterns and create algorithms to solve programs.  Whilst I am writing about these at Christmas they would obviously also be great STEM resources for the classroom.

I had one of these Electronic Kits as a boy and I learnt so much about how electronic circuits work and what different components can do.  So much to do here for under $50.00 and they are very durable.  Whilst there are clear instructions to follow it also offers much in the way of problem solving and algorithmic design.

Laser maze encourages kids to think and act sequentially to solve and avoid problems.  Plenty of logic required to compete and it even uses real lasers.  

Okay, I know this one is a pricey option but it clearly ticks every box for quality of product, educational value and awesome fun.  Build an incredible robot using the worlds most proven and versatile toy.  Command your robot by either coding the inbuilt computer which is incredibly versatile or just use the remote control.   Then when you are finished use your imagination to create a robot or machine only limited by your imagination.  These sets are hugely popular in schools and are already highly credentialed for educational value alone.

Camelot Jr.
$26.40

Basic building blocks are great, but this wooden-block puzzle game helps build even more skills for your budding engineer or architect. It includes 48 interesting challenges at four different skill levels, all with the goal of connecting the prince and princess by building stairs, bridges, and towers according to the "blueprint" laid out in the challenge book.

No, it isn't Wall-E or an expensive super LEGO robot but ReCon is a great little programming rover that uses all the common commands and of real coders.  Easy to pick up, very versatile and won't break the bank.

So there are five options to consider in this space.  If you have any other suggestions please leave us a comment.

5 great sites to get your head around computational thinking

This eBook is a great starting point for teachers looking to get started with computational thinking, coding and robotics. Click image to access.

This eBook is a great starting point for teachers looking to get started with computational thinking, coding and robotics. Click image to access.

This year I have been doing a great deal of research around understanding computational thinking, coding and robotics as it becomes a mandatory element of the Australian Curriculum in 2017.

I really feel this to be a huge step in the right direction for our students as Australia's economy is currently built upon unsustainable mining practices which leaves our best and brightest to head overseas as to pursue successful careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Throughout this process I have struggled at times to find some worthwhile resources for teachers but at the same time uncovered a few diamonds among the rough that I highly recommend.  They are as follows.

Teaching London Computing - Has some fun activities for teachers to pick up and run with straight away that effectively reinforce the concepts of computational thinking and computer science to the average Joe.  Regulatory updated also.

CSER Digital Technologies MOOC.  - This is by far and away the most concise resource I have encountered.  A completely free unit from the University of Adelaide with hundreds of participants sharing ideas and insights.  It will take you a few weeks to get through but incredibly thorough.  It is aimed at an Aussie audience but is by far and away the best I have encountered globally.

CS Unplugged - Tim Bell has put together an incredible collection of activities for budding computer scientists and computational thinkers.  Just one catch though.  You don't use a computer to do any of them which I love.  Excellent for those who are a little scared by screens and keyboards.

Computational Thinking for Educators - Google's free mini course on computational thinking  is short but sweet.  In theory you could polish this off in a few hours but there is much to explore and flesh out beyond that.  A great starting point. 

Code.org - Whilst code.org is probably the largest of all of these resources and definitely a must visit for any budding teacher or student looking for ideas in this space it's purpose is a little less defined than all the others on this list.  Or at least I felt so.  Certainly heaps here for coders in particular but go in with an end goal.

If you are aware of any others I would love to hear your thoughts.

 

Make your own Egg Carton Ladybug

Next time you finish a carton of eggs, put it aside for your next art and craft session with the kids. These cute little ladybug are easy tomake and are great attached to a mobile, used in imaginative play or asa party decoration.

What you will need...An Egg Carton, Craft Glue, Red Paint, Paint Brush, Scissors, BlackPermanent Marker, 2 x Googly Eyes, 1 x Black Pipe Cleaner, 1 x FluffyBlack BallTip...You can substitute the fluffy ball, pipe cleaners and goggly eyes with black and white paper for a look which is just as good.  Click here to see a photo!

Step One... Using your scissors carefully cut out an egg cup from your egg carton as shown

Step Two... Using your red paint, grab a paint brush and paint your egg cup

Step Three... Once dry, using your black permanent marker, draw black dots over the surface of the egg cup

Step Four... Using your craft glue stick the black fluffy ball to the painted egg cup to form the ladybug's head 

Step Five... Prepare your black pipe cleaner antlers by cutting two 2cm (1inch) pieces and bending them as shown

Step Six... Using your craft glue, stick the googly eyes and antlers on

Step Seven... you are finished!

I'd love to hear how you go with this...