[Edu-sig] re: book: Head First Java

Kirby Urner urnerk at qwest.net
Thu Sep 4 23:20:05 EDT 2003

At 09:55 PM 9/4/2003 -0700, Guido van Rossum wrote:
>I noticed this book at OSCON, and spoke briefly with Tim O'Reilly
>about it.  He was interested in doing a Python version if a good
>author (or more likely a good team of authors) would present itself.
>Any takers?
>--Guido van Rossum (home page: http://www.python.org/~guido/)

I'd like to be involved in something like this.  I like the
whole approach.

I'd also like to see it applied in the intersection between
math and computer programming, the nexus which so interests me.

Here's something I just wrote to math-teach @ The Math Forum
about all this:


Given the realities of the job market, a lot of serious-minded
adults shell out of computer books designed to give them more
skills.  There's a lot of pressure on publishers and authors
alike to find out what makes technical subjects learnable.

A recent contribution to the field is 'Head First Java', which
I encourage math teachers to skim, especially the first sections,
which are self-consciously about pedagogy.

A first impression might be that this is another "for dummies"
style book, and yes, there's some overlap (and why are *those*
books so successful?).

But this is an O'Reilly computer title, and the humor is in my
opinion of higher caliber than the "or dummies" or "for complete
idiot" series.  The important thing is that the authors are making
some claims about what helps people learn, and then following
their own advice, demonstrating what they consider to be an
effective way of imparting technical content.  It's all about
tricking your brain in to *caring* -- or so the authors argue.

The brain is designed to filter out the low stim unimportant
stuff, say the authors.  It's a survival machine and evolved
though eons of flight or fight in jungles and such.  By keeping
the trivia out, it makes sure the important stuff (like lurking
wild animals) stay front and center.  But our problem is we
*need* to learn Java (just as our ancestors *needed* to learn
how to keep out of a tiger's way).  So we have to meet the
brain half way and give it more of the stimulation it expects
when things are important.  More stim.  More of that sticky
stuff that'll help wire it all in.  More graphics, more
associations.  The claim is that these techniques are in fact
research based.

The result reminds me a lot of 'Who is Fourier?', a book designed
to impart the ins and outs of Fourier analysis to lay persons,
using the techniques pioneered by a certain language institute
to teach regular human languages (like French and Korean).  That
the human language teachers and computer language teachers would
come to similar conclusions, regarding what works, is not entirely

I encourage math teachers to look at 'Who is Fourier?' as well,
preferably in conjunction with 'Head First Java'.


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