[Edu-sig] minimum age to learn python (a.k.a graphical vs text languages)

Brian Blais bblais at bryant.edu
Sat Mar 10 16:33:24 CET 2007


I was wondering what the approximate minimum age to learn python is.  Has anyone had 
experience teaching middle school students, or elementary school students Python? 
What brought this up for me is thinking about starting a Lego robots group in a local 
middle school.  I only teach college, and have little experience with middle school 
students, so I find it hard to guess what they could actually do.  I started 
programming when I was about 5th grade, on a Commodore VIC 20 (3.5k RAM!) in basic, 
but I don't think I am typical.  (Of course, now, you can probably infer my age to 
within 2 years!  :)  ).

I've written something so that students can program in Python syntax to run the Lego 
Mindstorms robots.  The most commonly used language for these robotos, in the middle 
school, is Robolab which is entirely graphical.  Although a good program, I find 
there are some drawbacks:
1) Robolab is commercial, and not all schools can afford this above and beyond the 
price of the lego mindstorms
2) Robolab only runs on Mac/Windows, and not Linux, so those schools that have tried 
to save money on the operating system get whacked there too
3) Robolab can *only* do Lego robots.

Although you learn the basic language structures (loops, branching, etc...), because 
it is graphical, Robolab doesn't translate directly.  Perhaps this is enough for kids 
to start, but perhaps one can do better.

On the other hand, my pynqc tool (which uses the freely available nqc language for 
the Lego Mindstorms) is:
1) free (in both senses)
2) runs on Mac/Linux/Windows
3) because you use python syntax, it is easier to go and do other python projects not 
involving robots

In my mind, this opens up more doors, but it is not graphical.

I wanted to hear responses from people who have experience teaching programming in 
elementary/middle (or even high) school.  Do graphical languages make a big 
difference?  Do text-based languages put up barriers to young learners?  Is it no big 
deal either way?


			Brian Blais


              bblais at bryant.edu

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