Two insights on teaching computer programming

Kirby Urner urnerk at qwest.net
Sun Jan 15 12:20:53 EST 2006


Kathi Fisler:
> A prerequisite for linking together tools to process data (from a
> students' area of interest) is understanding that data.  Most
> non-majors (and incoming majors, for that matter) have never been
> asked to think about data or information, that it has structure and
> form that governs how to process it.  HtDP's focus on identifying and
> articulating the structure of data and using that to drive process and
> testing makes it valuable for majors and non-majors alike.

Speaking of structured information, I whipped up this Python module for use
with my 8th graders.  We mostly just eyeball this code, coming off some
exercises with Google Earth -- it's not like I'm expecting 8th graders to
dive head first into spherical trig:

http://www.4dsolutions.net/ocn/python/gis.py

(feel free to use this in your own classes -- I wrote a screen scraper to
get all those city coordinates in the first place, spare yourself
reinventing the wheel maybe).

>From here, a next stop might be this geography quiz I wrote:  a simple HTML
POST (with multiple choice popup) backends into a MySQL database, source
code available (including for loading the database).

This is how to provide overview:  develop some fluency in a language (could
be Scheme, why not?), then use that fluency to eyeball working code that
roughly corresponds to real world production stuff (in a "cave painting"
kind of way, i.e. we've stripped away a lot of the unnecessary complexity,
so the core abstractions come through loud and clear):

http://www.4dsolutions.net/ocn/geoquiz.html

Question:  given all the resources on the web, complete with animations,
links to Google videos and so on, do we really need traditional text books
any more?  Even exercises might be given and graded on-line.  I've been
asking this question around O'Reilly a lot (not a big source of traditional
text books in any case, but definitely a big player in the open source world
-- i.e. the world that matters (at least to me)).

Anyway, HtDP is available on-line (no paper needed), so it already qualifies
as an open source web resource.  Schemers are ahead of the curve, as usual.

Kirby
OCN/4D






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