[Chicago] Python in local school systems?

Cosmin Stejerean cstejerean at gmail.com
Thu Feb 1 01:10:02 CET 2007

While I agree with Michael on the value of Python for teaching
thinking skills and programming concepts, the problem will be
convincing enough kids to sign up for the class. At the high school
level most of the kids not interested in programming won't care about
programming skills if they can't do something fun (build a board game,
etc) and the few people that are interested in programming most likely
already know enough to be bored to death by a class that covers
thinking skills and for loops.

Java has the advantage of being the language used by the College Board
exams for AP Placement so if you suffer through it and do decent on
the AP exam you won't have to re-take intro to programming in college.

Teaching folks programming concepts in the context of building web
applications could go a long way towards increasing the interest in
CS. With new frameworks such as Django or Turbo Gears teaching web
application development as an introductory programming class could
work. Most high schools in my area have been offering Web Design
(HTML) courses for years. A course could go briefly into database
design, Python syntax and setting up a web application (like a
shopping cart) and then go into the rest of the concepts along the

One application that I find to be a student favorite is a catalog
application that lets them keep track of their books, CDs, comics,
etc. I can also imagine that building a blog could be cool as well.

The key to teaching folks thinking skills is to capture their
imagination and make them want to learn more.

On 1/31/07, Ted Pollari <tcp at uchicago.edu> wrote:
> On Jan 31, 2007, at 4:15 PM, Michael Tobis wrote:
> I don't see why IT momentum should have anything to do with teaching logical
> thinking to people who probably aren't going to be professional programmers.
> Pretty UIs are not computer literacy any more than Excel spreadsheets are.
> I think you've got a high bar for computer literacy here -- understanding of
> excel spreadsheets is much more germane  to most people's interactions with
> computers than is programming in python.
> There was a time that most people who drove cars needed to know quite a bit
> about how they worked so as to get themselves out of having to sit bit the
> roadside as breakdowns were more frequent. Now, trouble shooting fuel
> injection problems or other engine operations is a specialized skill not at
> all required of the majority of people who use cars even for their
> livelihood.
> My point is that "computer literacy" no longer means "programming literacy"
> or even "command line literacy" just like "programming literacy" no longer
> necessarily implies "assembly literacy" or even "C literacy".  And,
> moreover, there's nothing wrong with that -- far from it in fact, if you
> think about it from a design perspective, IMHO.
> A slight casting of Dean's point would be that teaching a 'CS course' in
> high school often means "computer literacy" and not "programming literacy"
> and that the majority of the people in high school 'CS' courses aren't going
> to be interested in "programming literacy" unless it's done in a flashy way
> that keeps their attention by yielding visible results quickly.  Overall,
> this is the epitome of high school, if not human nature, IMHO.  Sure, I
> appreciate the year and a half of logic coursework I did in college and I do
> think it helped me, but I don't expect everyone to want to or need to go
> down that course for the world to be a happy place.
> Skills are transient. Develop intelligence and you can acquire skills as
> needed.
> You can teach skills much more readily than you can teach intelligence.
> There's a time and a place for both and given the ever increasing ubiquity
> of computers, basic skills are essential, just as driving is an essential
> skill for a good majority of Americans.  You shouldn't need to understand
> how to build a car to drive one and you shouldn't need to understand how to
> program a computer to use one, no matter how valuable and abstractable or
> extendable the former is.
> Moreover, if the above were true, university communities would be much
> different places, but that's a whole different line of discussion...
> -ted
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