Oklahoma School of Science and Math
Practicing Math by Playing with Python
Hille Institute, 2007
Dr. J Adrian
A self contained version of Python that automatically loads
the workspace described here is
available.. You can
load it on any Windows disc drive, including a flash drive.
Installing the Software
- Insert the CDROM. When it has settled down, open (by
double clicking the left button) “My Computer”. You should see something like this
- Copy and paste the K12Python folder to your local C: drive. You
have the right place when you see “Local Drive (C:)”.
- Find the DVD/CD player and double click on it.
- Find K12Python and right click on it. From the menu that pops
up choose "copy".
- Back out of the DVD/CD folder to what you saw above.
- Right click on “Local Drive (C:)” and choose "paste" from
the menu that pops up.
- Open the “Local Drive (C:)” folder (by double left clicking on
it). You should see the K12Python folder again. (This time you are seeing a copy on your
C: drive.) Open the K12Python folder as well.
- Look for the file named python (not python24 or
pythonw; however python.exe is ok).
Copy and paste that icon to your desktop (with right clicks the
way you did before). You will be asked if you want to create a shortcut answer yes.
- You can now run K12Python by clicking on the icon on your desktop.
When you do, you should see the following
Running the Software
Of course, there are lots of other things that can be done with Python.
Reformatting text and creating dynamic web pages are two of the most
popular. There are whole books written on each of these topics as well
as on object-oriented programming in Python. All of that goes beyond
what we can do in half a day.
A very new book that combines Python with high school mathematics may
interest you. It is "Mathematics for the Digital Age and Programming in
Python" by Maria and Gary Litvin. Get it from the publisher at
http://skylit.com. The Litvin's agree with me that Python offers
an opportunity to make mathematical abstractions seem more concrete and
they included some of my ideas in their book.
- The normal Python prompt is >>>. When you see this, the
Python interpreter is waiting for your input. You can
Two such tools we will look at are called rational_numbers, for working
with fractions, and graphing for drawing graphs.
- Enter arithmetic expressions and have Python evaluate them.
- Change the way division works.
- Define functions to use in expressions.
- Enter list expressions and have Python evaluate them.
- Load or save your workspace.
- Change folders.
- Import useful tools.
Arithmetic expressions are related to the grade six curriculum. Here
are some things you can do with them.
Have you seen some anomalies with real numbers? These anomalies are
a bit difficult to explain and you may want to stay with integers when
in grade 6.
- enter “2+2” (always without the quotes unless instructed otherwise).
The screen will look like this
You entered the “2+2”. Python responded with “4” and told
you it was ready for more input.
- What you must remember when working with Python is that
your entire calculation must be entered on one line and
that line cannot begin with any extra blanks.
If you do not follow these rules, you will get a syntax error.
- To see what a syntax error looks like enter
File "<stdin>", line 1
SyntaxError: invalid syntax
There is no problem with making syntax errors. When you make one,
simply try again.
- Here is what you will see if you put a space before the
File "<stdin>", line 1
SyntaxError: invalid syntax
- Spaces to separate the things you put on a line are allowed. For
>>> 2 + 2
- Try calculating each of the following:
Keep playing with these things until you can explain the meaning of
* and **.
Hardware Quirks and the Way Division Works
- Because real numbers, such as 1/3 or 0.333333...,
often involve infinite expansions and because computers use
binary numbers which have different decimal expansions than we
are used to, you will find that arithmetic with real numbers provide
some surprising results. For example, try 1/5. The weird result
you get is close to the answer you expect but it is a bit off because
1/5 is an infinite decimal in the binary number system.
So, never expect exact answers when working with real numbers.
- Another hardware quirk is that computers have different circuitry
for real number arithmetic than they have for integer arithmetic.
Compare what you get for 11.0/3.0 with 11/3. In the latter
case, the computer is telling you the whole number of 3's that can be
- Try some more divisions.
- Of course, one reason we have software is so we won't have to put
up with all the hardware quirks. To make Python divide in a more reasonable
way do this
>>> from __future__ import division
Now try other divisions with integers and with real numbers.
- The ability to ask: “What is the whole number of threes that
go into eleven?” is still there but now you have to write //
instead of /, as in
- You might want to know what the remainder is when you divide
3 into 11. Try 11%3.
Parentheses and Order of Operands
These are also sixth grade topics.
>>> x = 5+2
>>> y = 3-4
Why do the latter two Python calculations produce the same answer? Would
they be the same if the parentheses were removed?
- Assign other values to x, y, and z and experiment
calculating things like
x/y+z with different operators and parentheses. Are the results
as you expect?
What you are doing here is making up examples that illustrate the need
for parentheses and why the order of the operands is often important.
This leads to a nice introduction of the commutative property because
we have seen that subtraction is not commutative but addition is.
- Not only the order of the operands but also combination of
operators makes a difference. Some operators like *, /,
//, and / take precedence over others like + and -.
Which of the following are equal?
It takes some time to get used to the idea of a variable and grade 6
isn't too early to begin.
- Try this
>>> x = 2
You have just told Python that, for the time being when you say
“x” you mean “2”.
- Try some arithmetic expressions with x: x+3, x-3,
3**x, and so forth.
- Now try this
>>>y = x
>>> x = 3
What do you expect x and y to represent now? Remember
y is given the same value as x before the
value of x is changed.
- You can always find the value of a variable this way
- Try some arithmetic expressions of your own after giving values to x and y.
This is the one place where you must really
watch out if teaching Python and mathematics together. In mathematics
a variable is assigned a value for one problem and it doesn't change
until you start a new problem. In computer science a variable can
change its value wheresoever you want it to. Many of us believe that
this fact makes computer programming harder than mathematics. When
debugging programs, lots
of time can be wasted finding out why some variable acquired a crazy
Kinds of Numbers
Off the shelf, Python can deal with two kinds of numbers, integers
and real numbers. Integers are called ints and real
numbers are called floats. Python recognizes a number to be
an int if there is no decimal point and a float if there is
a decimal point.
The word “float” has historical origins and is useful today because
it emphasizes that the results you get with floats are not exactly
the same as the results you get with real numbers.
has functions for converting ints to floats and vice versa.
- What is the effect of float(22)? Can you assign something to a
so that you will get the same effect with float(a)?
- Experiment with int(x) where x is a real number.
- If x is a variable representing a real number, how would you round
it to an integer using int?
Extra: You won't have time for this today.
Still at the sixth grade level here.
- Convert 158 minutes to hours and minutes.
- Convert 67 hours 21 minutes to minutes.
- Convert 157 inches to feet and inches.
- Convert 4 feet 5 inches to inches.
Importing a Tool for Fractions
- To use fractions, do this
>>> import rational_numbers
rational, numerator, denominator.
For more information use help(rational), etc.
- Fractions are called rationals. Consider this
Make your own fraction, assign it to the variable f2 and check
its numerator and denominator
- Add f1 and f2. If f2 is rational(2,3) you will
- Try arithmetic with other fractions.
- There is no separate data type for a mixed number but you can
force any rational to be converted to a real number.
Try some of your own examples.
Extra: You won't have time for this today.
As an example of using this to teach mathematical properties, you could
make examples of the
distributive property three ways: with integers, with real numbers, and
However, do remember when you do
x*(u+v) and (x*u)+(x*v) for real numbers that the answers you
get will not necessarily be exactly the same. Why?
Grade seven seems to be a good place to introduce the concept of
function which we can think of as a process for making a new number
out of an old one.
To define (or explain) a function you have to
The reason you name the function is so you can refer to it later. The
reason you name the starting value is because you have to be able to
refer to it when you are explaining the process.
Here's an example:
- Give the a name.
- Give a name to the number you start with.
- Explain the process itself.
Python provides no new prompt until a function has been defined.
Instead, this window pops up:
In this window we define the function. First, enter this line
This will tell Python that we are not asking to have an
expression evaluated. Rather we are making a definition.
We are defining a function named “f”. When we get around
the function's process, we will use
the variable x to represent the starting value.
To keep things simple, suppose the process of creating another
number is merely to add one to the starting value. Then
our second line looks
return x + 1
which tells Python that the new number is going to be x+1.
Python already knows that x is the name we use for the starting
The starting value is usually called the function's argument.
Here is what our complete definition looks like when entered
in the edit window
Before we can use our new function we must check it by clicking
on “check”. If it checks out OK, we click on “load”. If
not, we edit it and try again.
Once f has been defined we can use it in Python expressions
>>> 2 * f(-1)
It is Python's job to take the number in parentheses, assign
it to the variable x, then evaluate the return expression,
then return the value obtained. What “return”
means is for the first calculation, is to continue calculating as
if we had typed 4 instead of f(3) and, for the
second calculation, to continue calculating as if we had
typed 0 instead of f(-1).
Here is another way to look at function definition. Suppose we wanted
to convert a fahrenheit value to centigrade. A somewhat long-winded
way of doing this is:
>>> fahr = 18
>>> centigrade = 5*(fahr-32.0)/9
Wouldn't it be nicer to just write the following?
The starting values 18 and -40 are the arguments.
Isn't the second result curious? I learned this fact, while teaching at the
University of Calgary in Alberta. It happened to be -40 that day.
Here is a definition for such a centigrade function:
You are about ready to try this for yourself. Of course, you will make
some mistakes from time to time. There are two kinds of mistakes
To fix a logic error you need to re-edit the function. To re-edit
a function named f do this
- Syntax errors these are mistakes that confuse Python because
you are not writing its language correctly. These are the kind of
mistakes that will be found when you click on check.
- Logic errors these are mistakes that happen when Python
understands what you want and what you want is wrong. You will not
find these errors until you test your function. (And maybe not even
For these exercises, use the fact that a kilometer is six tenths of
- Write and test a function named kilometer that converts miles to kilometers.
- Write and test a function named mile that converts kilometers
- Test mile(kilometer(60)) and kilometer(mile(100).
To draw graphs in K12Python you must do this first:
>>> import graphing
a Graph class; enter help(Graph) for more info
You can also adjust the yaxis and the height. Use yfactor= and
- Graph your kilometer with Graph(kilometer).
- Define a function g which returns 3 times the
cube of its argument. Graph it. The graph looks real bad
doesn't it? You need to change the scale. Try this
You should see something
like this graph.
Restarting K12Python; Saving, Reloading, and Changing Folders
Now that you have some functions written, you may want to save them for
another day. You can do this as you shut K12Python down.
Save this workspace? (y, n, or ?) y
saved to workspace
This does not work if you shut down K12Python by simply closing the
window. The next time you start K12Python, you will be asked if you
want to reload that workspace. If you answer by entering “y”, all
the functions and variables from your saved workspace will be reloaded.
Why don't you try quiting,
restarting, and reloading?
Extra: You won't have time for this today.
If you want to be able to save more than one workspace you must
understand how the folders and files work in your computer. If you do, then
know that workspaces are saved in a file named saved_workspace in
the current folder. If you want to save different workspaces, then you
must save them in different current folders. To change the current
folder use changeFolder() which will pop up a window you can
browse for the folder you want.
You can save or reload a workspace at anytime. Be sure you are in
the correct current folder for that workspace and then use save()
to save your current workspace or load() to load the workspace
of the current folder into K12Python. Whenever you load a workspace,
you are asked if you want to clear out K12Python before the loading
If you have a function or variable, say its name is k, that you no
longer want, then do this
>>> del k
The variable will be removed from K12Python but not from any workspace
where it has been saved.
K12Python also has functions for reading and writing text files which
will work with files in the current folder. If you write a file with
Notepad, you can read it with readString. If you write a file with
writeString, you can read it with Notepad. Of course, you will
want to learn more about how standard Python handles text before you
try this. Text in Python, and most programming languages, is called
For the eighth grade you will want to talk about averages and
medians. To do that you need to talk about lists of numbers. In
Python, lists of numbers are as easy to work with as numbers. Some
[1, 2, 3]
[1, 3, 2]
>>> [1,2,3] + [9,8,7]
[1, 2, 3, 1, 3, 2]
>>> sorted( [4,2,8,10,-1,0] )
[-1, 0, 2, 4, 8, 10]
>>> x = [1,2,3]
>>> y = [9,8,7]
>>> x + y
[1, 2, 3, 9, 8, 7]
>>> sorted( x + y )
[1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9]
- Create a couple lists of your own and assign them to variables
x and y
- Try to apply the function sum to your lists. What does it
- Try to apply the function min to your lists. What does it
- Try to apply the function max to your lists. What does it
- Try to apply the function len to your lists. What does it
- Write a function of your own. Name it average. Your
function should start with a list and return a float. The returned
float should be the average of the values in the list. You will, of
course, be using both the sum and the len functions to
It is possible to play with the individual numbers in a list.
>>> t = [1,2,3]
[1, 2, 3]
The numbers 0,1, and 2 are list indexes. The numbers 1,2,3 are list
values. We always start counting list indexes at 0 and go up
by one each time we move to the right. List values on the, other hand
can be anything.
>>> t = [1,1,1]
>>> u = [5,3,[1,1]]
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "", line 1, in ?
TypeError: unsupported operand type(s) for +: 'int' and 'list'
This last use of the sum function didn't work because the list u does not
consist solely of numbers. We can make a list of lists, but then
we cannot add all the numbers!
We can, however, change individual values in a list. Consider this
>>> u = 4
[5, 3, 4]
One definition of median of a list of numbers says that
the median the
middle of value of the same list, sorted. If the list has an
even number of values and there are two middle values. Here it
is convenient to take the
larger (rightmost) one as the median. With this definition, the formula you
have been testing can be be used to write a function which will
return the median of a list of numbers. Here it is
- Find the median of [8,2,9,3,6]. (Sort it and take the middle
- The range of a list of numbers might be defined as the difference
between the highest and lowest numbers in the list. Write and test
a function range which returns the range of its list argument.
- If lst is a list with an odd number of values, what is
lst[ len(lst)//2 ]? (Hint: “It is the index of that value
which …” .) Test your answer with some experiments.
- If lst is a list with an even number of values, what is
lst[ len(lst)//2 ]? Test your answer with some experiments.
middle = len(lst)//2
sortedlst = sorted( lst )
Notice that this function definition involves more than just a
return statement. It is always possible to put extra statements
before the return statement. We do this when we want to create
variables that will make the expression in the return statement
easier to write.
One important caveat: All the statements in your function definition
must be indented exactly the same amount!
K12Python was written at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics
by me, Dr. J Adrian Zimmer. Its purpose is to provide a version of
Python that is even more encouraging of student experimentation than
is standard Python. The current version is 0.1.1.
When you start K12Python, all the differences
between it and standard Python are listed as a startup message.
When you import either of K12Python's modules, rational_numbers
and graphing, the things they add to Python are again listed
as the module imports. (The rational_numbers module, by the
way, was not written by me. All I did was repackage a version that
can be found at the Python web site.)
K12Python is available as open source software from my web site. This web
site is being redesigned during the summer of 2007 so I am not exactly sure where to
tell you to look. Try
in that order.
Extra: you won't have time for this today.
My way of learning mathematics has always been to find a problem I find
a bit tricky and solve it. Here are some suggestions which I
be right for you. Yes, they
are computer problems rather than math problems, but solving them requires a bit of what is known
as “mathematical maturity”.
- Can you rewrite the median function so that there is no
need for the variables middle and sortedlst?
>>> x = 2
>>> y = 3
How would you swap the values assigned to x and y if you
didn't know they were 2 and 3? (Hint: you will need to use a third
- Suppose you didn't want to write float(3) but wanted to write
real(3) instead. Find two ways of enabling this.
return sorted( lst )[ len(lst)//2 ]
>>> z = x
>>> x = y
>>> y = z
- The most obvious way would be to enter edit and then make
Another way relies on the fact that variables in Python need not
refer to only numbers and lists of numbers, they can refer
to functions. So you can name a variable real and assign the
function we know as float to it. As in, real = float.