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Discussion on: Explain the challenge of generating random numbers like I'm five

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Alex Martelli

Congrats on your choice to teach in primary school -- reminds me of what Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of my idols, chose to do with his life for a few years right after WW1.

For me, the once-in-a-lifetime try at teaching young kids was with my two children -- I was told "by everybody" that I did everything wrong... interacting with them "as if" what they lacked was only an accumulated lifetime of knowledge, NOT brainpower, smarts, attention span, etc, because that's how I recalled my own childhood and my parents interacting with myself (and how I LIKED interaction with adults back when I was a child, though hardly any adults except my parents gave me that much respect).

I know that's completely contrary to every current theory in pedagogy, but... check out a recent tweet from my now-grown-up son, -- "I have been blessed by a completely deranged (according to normies) father who actually came close to optimizing his role with me. I feel it will be very hard to do the same with my two children". So it seems that while I was indeed "going at it in a 100% wrong way" ("completely deranged according to normies", as my son Lucio put it:-), in retrospect, the results weren't all that bad.

(My grown-up daughter is nowhere as active on social media, being too busy using her PhD in Telecom Engineering to build an awesome career -- my own degree is more generic, Electronic Engineering [we didn't have such fine-grained specialization in my time!-)], and only a humble MSEE, not a PhD, but overall her career has been, so far, eerily parallel to the early part of my own... I suspect this may indirectly suggest that she, also, retrospectively appreciates how I interacted with her in her childhood).

If either of my kids had asked me about the Twister when they were five (unlikely, as it didn't exist back then, but, let's assume!-), I would have explained it takes a lot of background to explain it well, were they interested enough to spend several hours? They might have said no, not enough -- or they might have taken me up on it, in which latter case I'd explain that my own grasp of the subject was broad, but not fully deep enough, so we'd be doing some research together (each of them LOVED that in the not-so-rare occasions in which such things happened -- NEVER bluffing by faking a knowledge I didn't have, but rather offering to research an issue together, is maybe the most important life lesson I ever learned from my late dad... BTW, he was a doctor, and would probably agree with your scathing judgment of how most of his colleagues were trained, though it would definitely not apply to him personally). If they took me up on it, I'd start with prime numbers, then binary representation of integers (if they didn't already know either subject -- at 5, they might have!), and continue from there.

Of course, an approach that can work for teaching one or two kids might likely break down entirely if tried on a whole classroom!, but then, the question was about explaining to ONE 5-year-old, presumably quite a bright one if they ask about such esoteric issues, NOT to a classroom of them!-)