Explore Ada Lovelace’s Bernoulli program with Wolfram

Ada LovelaceIn 1843, Ada Lovelace became the first person to publish what we would now call a computer program, a set of instructions to calculate Bernoulli’s Numbers, written for Charles Babbage’s unbuilt Analytical Engine. Lovelace had translated a paper about the Analytical Engine written in French by Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea, and had at Babbage’s suggestion added her own notes explaining the potential of the Analytical Engine in depth.

You can now explore the Bernoulli program using the Wolfram Language, a symbolic language which “emphasizes symbolic computation, functional programming, and rule-based programming”.

The interactive notebook begins with the Gauss Schoolboy Problem:

As a young schoolboy, [German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss] was tasked with adding the first 100 integers, i.e. what is 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + … + 98 + 99 + 100? (The answer is 5,050.) Gauss reportedly produced the correct answer within seconds. How did he do this?

The workbook demonstrates how to calculate these numbers, and thus then how to calculate Bernoulli Numbers, “a sequence of rational numbers with deep connections to number theory.” From the workbook:

Back in the 1600s, people spent their lives making tables of sums of powers of integers. But Jakob Bernoulli pointed out that all such sums can be expressed as polynomials, with the coefficients being related to what are now called Bernoulli numbers. And in 1713, Bernoulli was proud to say that he had computed the first 10 Bernoulli numbers ‘in a quarter of an hour’—reproducing years of other people’s work.

Ada Lovelace was calculating these numbers by hand!

You can also scans of Lovelace’s letter to Babbage discussing the Bernoulli numbers at the end of the workbook.

The workbookWolfram Language was created by Wolfram Research, makers of Mathematica and Wolfram|Alpha.

Help us develop educational resources for schools

One thing I’ve always wanted to do for Ada Lovelace Day is produce educational resource packs about women in STEM, including ways to encourage girls to engage more with STEM subjects. I’ve had many requests in the past to produce such materials, but we’ve never had the money to do it, until now! Thanks to sponsorship from ARM, we have now kicked off our education project, which we’ve started in earnest over on our new forum.

We will be producing materials to support Year 7 (11-12) pupils in the UK, and will be releasing them under a Creative Commons licence to that they can be localised by volunteers.

The first stage of the project is to talk to teachers, parents, educators, science communicators and STEM experts in order to define the scope of the project, to work out what sort of materials are actually needed and how they support the National Curriculum. In order to do that, I’ve started a number of conversations on the forum, including:

There’s a lot more to discuss than that, obviously, and I’m very keen to hear from different perspectives on all these and related issues.

At the moment, I’m imagining that the resources pack could cover:

  • Information on women in STEM who can act as role models, both individuals and teams
  • Resources for studying STEM subjects, particularly ones suitable for girls or which are gender neutral
  • Information on gender literacy, including marketing and stereotypes
  • Suggestions on how to use after school activities to support girls interested in STEM

But this list is very much open to discussion, as everything is.

What can you do? 

If you’re interested in supporting this project, then please do get involved on the forum. Some of the questions I’d like to discuss include:

  • What sort of materials would be most useful to teachers? Are we talking lesson plans? Profiles of women in STEM? Lists of online STEM resources? All of the above?
  • How can we support the National Curriculum? I don’t want to produce materials that are only useful once a year on Ada Lovelace Day, but something which supports year round teaching.
  • Can we create a set of guidelines for assessing whether an online teaching resource supports girls in STEM? For example, does it challenge or support existing gender stereotypes?

It would be great if teachers and educators would be willing to share examples of great teaching materials that they would like to see more of, for example, lesson plans, activities, and worksheets. It would also be incredibly useful if people could share links to resources that already exist which might be relevant. We have no desire to reinvent the wheel, so want to compile a great list of online resources that support our mission of encouraging girls to consider STEM subjects.

And, as with any such project, there’s bound to be stuff we haven’t thought about that others can point out to us. We’re incredibly interested to hear from you, so please do get involved! And remember to share this blog post widely and encourage friends and colleagues to get involved too.