True or false: Should our high schools teach more Boolean algebra?
Albert Einstein wasn’t very good at math.
That could be read in two different ways. I don’t mean it in the same sense that I’m not very good at using the command-line interface in my Linux Mint operating system. What I’m saying is that as a physicist, Einstein wasn’t very good at what we call “pure” math, at least compared to his colleagues who devoted their entire academic careers to it. In fact, he sought out their help from time to time.
A physicist studies math as a means to a practical end, not for its own sake. In the same way, a computer scientist or software developer uses the numbers to make them better at what they do.
As we educate the next generation of Canadian IT professionals—I’m talking early on, in high school—we’re teaching them a lot of algebra, which is great. But maybe it’s time to start focusing more on a particular flavour of it: Boolean algebra.
Boolean algebra: computers just love it
Anybody exposed to any form of programming knows that algebra is an integral part of computation. It’s not because computers understand it. At the lowest level, Computers have a vocabulary consisting essentially of two words: ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ or in the parlance of Boolean algebra, ‘true’ or ‘false.’
This is, of course, why computers use binary numbers, those zillions of ones and zeros that express the logic of two opposite choices.
The logic of Boolean algebra is applicable to many other fields, but nowhere is it as practically important as it is in the world of information technology.
The tree of knowledge
Whether our young people are learning algebra with real numbers or binary numbers, they’re expanding their minds and will use that knowledge to excel in many fields. But let’s face it: we need more IT professionals in Canada, and emphasizing Boolean algebra earlier on in the educational process is one step we can take to make it happen.
One thing that pops up a lot in all sorts of computation is the Boolean algebra “tree,” which represents a logical way to go down the branches, twigs and leaves to find an ultimate answer. Here’s an easy example: the database query, where the journey begins with true or false question, then proceeds to a more specific one, and so on and so on until it finds what it needs.
Learning how a system like this works is a great way to introduce problem-solving skills to high school students. Since it has applications in so many IT-related roles, it can help them get a head start in their tech careers.
Boolean search is good karma for recruiters
A few years down the road, when these high school students become adults with IT marketable skills, there will be jobs waiting, and recruiters ready to connect them to them. And now, these IT pros themselves become part of a Boolean algebra tree.
Stafflink is big on using Boolean searches for online recruiting, and has published a manual on how to use them. By entering different syntax in Google searches, recruiters can hone in on the best candidates by selecting for specific locations, former roles, people within a particular organization, etc. While the system is easy to use, there’s some serious Boolean algebra under the hood.
So, what are your thoughts on teaching Boolean algebra to high school students? Let us know in the comments with true or false answers.