[Edu-sig] python for kids...

Jay Bloodworth jbloodworth at sc.rr.com
Sun Nov 11 17:09:47 CET 2007

On Sat, 2007-11-10 at 19:04 -0600, Michael Tobis wrote:
> I agree that the concept of a "variable" is deeply unpythonic in most contexts.

But it's pretty darn programmatic.  I think overemphasizing python idiom
and ontology in a first programming course is a mistake.  Variables,
subroutines, loops, conditionals - these are a few of my favorite

I've never really taught programming, but my intuition, based on ten
years experience teaching algebra and prealgebra to middle school
students, is that they will "get" the idea of variables with any
reasonable explanation: boxes, labels, names, whatever.  Certainly, many
will have difficulty understanding scoping, reference vs. value, deep
vs. shallow copies, etc., but these are concepts that are fundamentally
more subtle and challenging, and most adults must work to wrap their
heads around them as well.

I'm going to go a little further out on a limb here and offer a theory
and a prediction to test it, that I'd appreciate it if anyone who has
taught programming to 10-15 year old can respond to: Regardless of how
they are taught, kids first mental model of a variable is something
like: "a value the program needs to change".  Hence they will be
uncomfortable and may resist understanding when a variable is used to
name a constant value.


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