[Edu-sig] a non-rhetorical question

Jeff Rush jeff at taupro.com
Sat Jul 7 16:20:10 CEST 2007

Andy Judkis wrote:
> Jeff,
> Your thoughts are very much like mine were -- the problem is so trivial 
> and obvious that anyone who's spent a little time with the material 
> should see the solution immediately.  But my experience shows that 
> that's simply not true.  This stuff is just hard for most kids, even 
> bright ones.
> When I was in college in the late 70s, I worked as a research assistant 
> at Pitt, working with people studying expert/novice differences in 
> Physics problem solving. 
> (http://www.garfield.library.upenn.edu/classics1993/A1993LZ47400001.pdf) 
> The outcome of the study (which seemed pretty predictable to me) was 
> that experts used concepts like momentum and energy to approach the 
> problems, while novices used cues like "spring" and "inclined plane" to 
> figure out what to do.  I think something similar happens with 
> programming.  Most programming instruction that I've seen starts off by 
> having the kids copy programs and make changes to them, and over time 
> the ones that stick with it build up some conceptual understanding of 
> what's going on.  It just seems to take longer than I would expect.

Taken for what its worth as an outsider to the educational system, I've never 
seen much focus on teaching people "*how* to learn" an arbitrary topic.  It so 
often seems to be trickery (not in a malicious sense) and indirection, to 
reach that ah-ha moment.  Learning is about recognizing patterns in the world 
around you and relating them to an internal map of concepts - once you get 
that, you can learn anything.  Of course some form of guidance in adding 
unfamiliar concepts to your map is necessary, but by their nature those 
concepts are highly reusable from one field of study to another,  And the so 
often stated idea of "you have to keep learning all your life these days" 
really means to actively seek out and internalize new concepts in advance so 
you are prepared to relate your experiences to them.  The details don't matter 
so much as your brain will pick them up as needed.

That may make no sense - it is 9am on a Saturday morning - not my usual time 
to be up at all (being a night person).

Here in the Dallas Python usersgroup, we've been talking about running 
full-day classes to teach new people to program in Python.  We get a mix of 
attendees, those who know it and want to talk about cool modules, and those 
who come out of curiosity and wonder if this is the place to learn 
programming.  They don't mix well, and we lose those who are new to 
programming (we don't have enough people to split into two groups).  So we're 
considering every quarter reserving one meeting for a full-day basics course. 
  If we do this, we'll have to locate/polish up suitable courseware, and 
perhaps in the process we'll gain a better appreciation of the challenges 
people face in learning how to program.


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