Well, the academic life just started on Friday, and I love this period of a few days where you actually can prepare yourself, read some of the stuff you should’ve read ages ago and perhaps even tidy up the office. Just a little bit.
I got this question about my profile photo (not the contrived serious one in the About Me page, but the small one on comments). The reason I love this photo (even if it is of myself) is that it shows myself learning some mathematical facts and connections on my Amstrad CPC 6128 computer. Also, it’s a rather amusing picture of myself around one of my favorite pass-times, with a lot of nostalgia on the walls… (A dog long gone, pop stars, a terrific hair cut, badges and medals, Bon Jovi, etc… ah.. the memories…). The Amstrad didn’t have a blue screen of death, it actually had a blue screen of life. With yellow text. Unfortunately blue (and red) was a colour not very suited for television sets, and the blue tended to blur so much it was hard to read blue text or text on a blue background…
I did not set out to learn mathematics on this computer, but it somehow forced itself into my motivation. I remember learning about sines and cosines in order to plot the circumference of a circle. If a teacher have told me this is what I should do, it wouldn’t have been half as fun. I remember learning about slopes in order to draw stars on the screen. This happened several years before sines and slopes entered my syllabus. I also subscribed to this magazine, named Amstrad Action, and there one could find listings of programs in Basic, which could be typed in and saved on floppies or cassettes. (Do you remember the sound of those tapes? You could listen to it, and after perfectioning your ear, you could say just by listening to the signal hiss whether the software was properly loaded or not.) Of course there was no hard drive, but the machine would ship with an enormous 128 Kb of memory. Not quite enough for everybody, according to Bill Gates, but nevertheless – endless possibilities in the eighties! One of the programs I typed in was a short program that would allow you to play with coefficients of quadratics. It would solve the equations and draw the graphs, and this was before we had ever heard of graphic calculators. I felt like I was on the edge of technical evolution… Anyhow, this “insight from within”, has been valuable to me when meeting the quadratics (and other functions) later on, and the Amstrad have also pointed me towards ways of treating my own students and pupils.
I later read Seymour Papert‘s “The Gears of My Childhood“, and things started to clear up a bit… I highly recommend the book “Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful ideas” where I read the mentioned article in the foreword, to anyone interested in the teaching and learning, particularily of mathematics.