Alfred Thompson questioned on his blog today whether the customary first programming exercise, Hello World, should be replaced with something that’s more flexible and calls on students to engage in a short, non-trivial first act as a programmer. I admit, I’ve used Hello World myself with students, but usually not as a first activity. Instead, I use Hello World to help students who have had some hours or days of programming instruction understand that they now know quite a bit about how programming languages express an intention. I ask students to visit the ACM Hello World web page and compare and contrast that simple program in different languages. How are code blocks started and ended? How is output generated? How is an infinite loop expressed? How are strings represented?
Imagine for a moment that you were going to teach writing in standard English in the same way we tend to teach computer programming.
Alright… Let’s learn to write. Before you can write, you need to know about the fundamentals of the language we’re going to use. A language is a collection of words and rules for how you combine those words. Words can be thought of as being of different types that determine the purpose and meaning of the words. For example, two types we’ll work with are nouns and interjections. There are other types, too, but we’ll get to those later.
For now, let’s write your first sentence. A sentence is a valid sequence of words. By valid we mean that the sentence would be recognized by an expert speaker of the language as being acceptable.
So, we need an example of a noun and an interjection to get us started… One frequently used noun is the word WORLD and a common interjection is HELLO.
Eric Freudenthal of the iMPaCT: a Media-Propelled introduction to Computational Thinking project spoke at SIGCSE 2010 about how to engage students who are math phobic with computation and, thereby, with math. Using Python and computation about dynamic systems, students work to understand how code == math == concepts. One issue raised was how ethical it is to mislead students initially about whether they’re learning “math”. Eric’s argument: if students know they’re learning math, they fallback on unsuccessful rote memorization techniques. If, however, they believe they are working with dynamic systems to understand how the system changes as parameters are adjusted, then students engage and experiment.
Every programmer and programming language has a preferred variation on how to format code. Here are my best suggestions for the languages I tend to code.
Led by Elisabeth Robson, coauthor of Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML, these sessions have been wonderful and are well worth your time. Until 2010 February 5, the entire set of recorded sessions + sample book chapters + sample code can be purchased either from Creative Techs or O’Reilly for just 35$.
Location: Kaplan University, Online
Class size: ~ 20 students/term
- Adobe Systems. (2009). Adobe Dreamweaver CS4: Classroom in a book. Berkeley, CA: Adobe Press.
Location: Kaplan University, Online
Class size: ~ 10 students/term
Students in IT250 learn the fundamentals of programming in PHP to enhance websites. Topics covered include fundamentals of programming, processing HTML form data, database connections using MySQL, and using MySQL as a backend data store.
- Meloni, J. C. (2004). PHP 5: Fast & Easy Web Development (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Thomson Course Technology.
The R Project provides a comprehensive, free, open source statistical programming language and environment based on the S language. R is the name of both the language and the environment in which you generally use the language. It’s an interactive environment where the commands you enter generate immediate results that you can use to guide your analyses.
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