new marketing ideas for CS in high school mathematics

kirby urner kirby.urner at
Tue Sep 23 11:05:00 EDT 2014

In the post linked below I'm somewhat following the Math Without Borders
curriculum writer, David Chandler, in thinking introductory ("high school")
mathematics would benefit from lambda calculus and computer languages, not
at all a new idea around here by any means.

The marketing breakthrough, which is shallow / superficial, one might say
(reaching out to my critics), is to brand the Newton-Leibniz differential /
integral calculus we teach in high schools today "delta calculus" (emphasis
on using a Greek letter).  "Lambda calculus" (another Greek letter) then
stands out as a fork in the road around Algebra in the sequence, as in
"Which calculus would you like to focus on next?".  A new way of posing the
choice: delta or lambda for your main entre, after the appetizers and
"algebra soup".

Earlier in this archives, you'll find my test-marketing "analog versus
digital" mathematics, recapitulating the move from vinyl to digital
recordings in music (vinyl is still big).  Differential calculus, with its
obsession with real numbers and continuity, was "analog" whereas computers
were of course discrete / finite state machines and so "digital".  Again,
this is looking for mnemonics or memes to help popular culture wrap its
mind around an abstract difference:  real analysis versus discrete
mathematics and statistics if you will.

Anyway, the marketing campaign has evolved from "analog versus digital" to
"delta versus lambda" with the "versus" not marking any battle or animosity
(we're looking at two valid branches of topics) but marking a competition
for attention in our busy young lives as high schoolers (that's the
stereotype / average demographic I'm thinking about reaching).

We (as in "we students") have to choose a focus, at least for the next ten
minutes, and "delta versus lambda" encapsulates a kind of choice.  A choice
to start thinking about in Algebra:  "do I want to go in the direction of
computer science or do I expect to need differential equations every day,
or both, or neither?"  Time to start planning ahead.

Lambda calculus reinvents itself (the Greek letter chosen somewhat at
random by Alonzo Church) and has Category Theory, Design Patterns, whatever
it needs to keep going as integral to CS.  Serving it up as an alternative
to "delta calculus" is, I think, a promising campaign.  The premise was
getting schools to give math credits, math mandatory, versus elective
credits only, for computer-related activities.  I feel that corner has been
turned already, in least in some states, so the next challenge is to
capitalize further on that "lemma victory".


Related blog post:

More information about the Math-thinking-l mailing list