FOM: accessibility of abstract notion of algorithm

John Baldwin jbaldwin at
Wed Oct 29 00:33:04 EST 1997

I taught a `welcome to the university  seminar' last Fall.  There
was a lot of time on the internet and people playing with the
game of Life.  Then I tried to talk about an abstract notion of
computation with cellular automata as the model.  Maybe one
or two of twenty students got some reasonable notion of the
idea of algorithm as expressed by an abstract machine.  And this
was in 5 or 6 hours of lecture supplemented by considerable
experimentation and play.

On the other hand, the statement `the domain of a rational function
consists of all but a finite number of real numbers' seems to
completely mystify students in my precalculus class after they spent
a week graphing rational functions.

So maybe this is too low a level for `general intellectual interest'.
Although I thought Steve mentioned his barber.

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