[Edu-sig] CP4E

Jordan M. Johnson jorjohns at cs.indiana.edu
Sun Apr 10 17:14:45 CEST 2005

On Sun, 10 Apr 2005, Arthur wrote:
# It's not, I don't think, that I am going out of my way to be argumentative.
# What you are saying here in fact touches what I consider to be the near
# basic nerve where I consistently get off the bus - i.e. I reject programming
# skills as anything near basic...
# Where would you place parsing through a file, versus, say, being able to
# read music notation - as a "basic skill" for fifth graders?  Where should we
# be directing limited resources?

This resonates with my experience teaching programming to a community of
11th graders of low (grade 1 - grade 10, avg. around grade 6) reading level.
One problem that many students have is a fundamental syntactic difficulty:
it takes a lot of work and reminders to get them to the point where they
would see the difference--ANY difference--between
	f write(...)
or similar constructs and remember to use the right notation each time (or
understand the interpreter's error messages).  So I'd be concerned that the
syntactic (not to mention lexical--what do all these function names mean?)
baggage would get in the way of the more basic requirement of teaching and
learning *geography*.  Traditional teaching methods already emphasize
linguistic skills heavily, and especially considering that geography affords
some opportunities for visual learning, I wouldn't abandon those in favor of
adding extra text-handling requirements.

I should add that I *do* believe there are some benefits to my students from
focused work on programming:
	- I conjecture that the practice needed to get past the syntactic
barriers (like the f.write() example above) involved in reading and writing
code will carry over to their other classes, and that the computer's
instantaneous feedback helps develop these skills.  There seems to be a
requisite level of reading skills, though, below which the fun of making
neat things happen doesn't outweigh the frustration of trying to figure out
how to right it.  I'm not convinced that the time I spent on programming did
anything but turn off the students below that level.
	- Learning about *design*, i.e., the skill of analyzing a problem
statement and planning out its solution, can carry over to *any* class my
students take.  I feel that math, science, and English teachers should
already be working on this skill, too, and it's all too easily lost in
the deluge of content expected to be taught.
	[...and other benefits with which the edu-sig reader will already be
familiar:  making algebra seem more realistic, offering concrete ways to
visualize what's happening, etc...]

Now, if you're talking about offering a computing curriculum outside of the
regular subject-area classes, and particularly, offering it to students who
have reached a point where they'd be comfortable using the necessary
text-handling skills, I don't see any problem with that.  One could even use
this example to make a point about the power of programming without
necessarily expecting the students to learn to do the process
themselves--though I'm wary of making it look more like magic than it
already does.  I think we need to connect the cool stuff to the question,
"How would I learn to do that in the first place?"

Anyway, that's more words already than I felt like dumping into my computer
this morning, so I'll leave it at that.


: jordan m johnson : jorjohns at cs.indiana.edu
: If I were a bug, I would want to be a true Renaissance bug.

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