[Edu-sig] Don't kids program anymore?

Radenski, Atanas radenski at chapman.edu
Sun Apr 30 19:09:54 CEST 2006

Darren Payne wrote:

> Re programming - kids want to PLAY GAMES most of all!

> Many would like to program their own games ... but do
> not wish to put in the time/ effort neccessary to
> develop the level of skill required.


It takes between one and three years to develop a commercial game. Students who take on game programming can be soon disappointed because they are likely to produce games that look really primitive in comparison to their favorite commercial games. Many students who thought that they may create real games are eventually destined to be disappointed with the actual products of their game programming experience.


> In addition, programming ... as many of us in this
> list know it ... is primarily CONSOLE BASED - by this
> I mean you spend alot of time entering text on a
> screen to run the thing to get more text on the screen


I disagree, particularly when it comes to college/university level students. Text based programming (meaning no GUIs, no graphics) can be very satisfying and rewarding with contemporary college/university students. First, the instructor needs to pick up interesting problems that make sense on their own. Forget about 'write a program to calculate this meaningless expression, because it is a good learning exercise'. Have students do something that they can understand and that makes some sense to them (such as money-related calculations, for example, or a text-based game). It must be something students can manage within a reasonable time interval (such as one class period). The most important features of text-based programs are (1) that students can succeed with them after having applied a reasonable effort and (2) that students can understand then (i.e., be in control while succeeding).


This is what motivates everyone best: (1) succeeding - while doing something that makes some sense - and (2) being in control while succeeding. Text-based programs in Python are good to start this process. Such programs prepare well students for GUIs and graphics. In my Python First courses (http://studypack.com) students start with meaningful and manageable text-based labs and end with some GUIs and graphics. Almost all succeed in their labs and understand what they are doing in the process. One Python First student (in a class taught by a colleague) told me recently that such text-based Python programs actually are helping him understand and manage mathematics better. This statement came to me as a very pleasant surprise.


> Like I said at the start kids want games, fun and
> multimedia - colour, music and animation / video


We should not underestimate our students (particularly at the college/university level) by thinking that only color, music, animation/video, and games can attract them to programming and computer science. This would be wrong. The vast majority of students are willing to learn and understand programming and computing. Really, they are. They are NOT some lazy folks who would not come to class if we do not try to entertain them with multimedia and games. They will come to class if we entertain them with (1) a chance to really *succeed* in meaningful and manageable class activities and (2) a chance to *be in control* and understand while succeeding.  GUIs and graphical games are probably not such activities in entry-level studies. Text based programming in Python (which reduces the syntax clutter to a minimum) can serve this purpose really well.


> regards
> Darren Payne


Great post, Daren. Thank you. I understand you share experience with HS students. I wrote of my college/university experience - thing can be somewhat different at HS, I do not know.




Atanas Radenski

radenski at chapman.edu     http://www.chapman.edu/~radenski

http://studypack.com          Digital courses for the net generation

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