[Edu-sig] after-school python, age 11+

Jeremy Gray jrgray at gmail.com
Tue Aug 19 21:44:41 CEST 2008

Hi all,

This is my first post to edu-sig, and its sort of long. In a nutshell:
a) I have developed and posted a few new material for kids getting started
with programming, e.g., for an after-school club, at
http://afterschoolpython.pbwiki.com/  Its free (no advertising ever,
open-source recommended), and will be so forever.
b) I am interested in collaborating with or sharing notes with others, to
make it even better.

Being new to this interesting forum, I'll introduce myself briefly. I'm a
dad (two kids, age 11 and 5), and have always been a geek at heart. I do
science for a living (human brain imaging and psychology, using computers
for everything), and have interests in education (including National Science
Foundation grants related to education research). I'm not an elementary-age
educator, although have family members who are educators. So it seems
inevitable that I'd end up lurking on python edu-sig :o) I've seen some
fairly long posts, so I'll take the plunge with a longish one myself.
Apologies if that's frowned on.

Basically, I want to teach my 6th grader how to program this coming year.
We've fooled around with logo / turtle graphics and like it, and are ready
for a real language. I was quickly sold on python as the way to go, despite
never having used it myself (or any OO language ... or maybe in part because
of that--I want to learn something too!). I looked around for existing
materials, and am really impressed by how much is out there for python (one
of several selling points). yet I did not find anything I was that
completely happy with. I looked carefully at the following, and learned a
lot, and like a great many things about them:
- Snake Wrangling for Kids
- LiveWires summer program
- other resources linked on Beginner's Guide to Python for non-programmers
- A byte of python
- J. Miller's 2004 PhD dissertation. his analysis of posts on what the
community thinks about desirable features in using python in education is
really helpful. one point that caught my eye was the dearth of intro
curriculum materials.

So, I took the plunge and have started to write something up myself. Its
well underway, but is a work in progress, at
My goal is to have it be an experience in learning how a computer can
enhance your mind, using a real language, aimed at a young audience without
talking down to them. (Young but able to read, type using a text editor, and
do some elementary-school math). I tried to follow Miller's guidelines on
desirable features, but have not followed them all (not yet at least,
graphics is a glaring example).

The key thing that motivated me to put effort into yet-another-free-resource
for learning python was to try to focus on problem solving as enhanced by a
computer, for this age group. Plus sneaking in some geek tidbits here and
there, like a few linux command-line tools (e.g., top), so that they are not
seen as exotic or weird or hard. A few of the activities are basically
cognitive science, and a few are more or less math.

I'm posting for two main reasons.
1. The first is just to say:  Hi, there is a little bit more curriculum "raw
material" out there, I hope someone else can use it too. Who might be
interested? My guess is that it will be most appropriate for a self-selected
audience, rather than cp4e. I envision it being used in an after-school
group (hence the name), probably at the middle-school level but maybe some
things would work for advanced elementary (I'm not an educator, just
guessing). Maybe some could be rewritten for an older audience.

Some of the activities are tried and true ("hello world!"), and some are
ones I thought up, like counting to a million to give kids a gut sense for
how fast computers are, described as turning yourself into a cyborg,
counting to a million in one second, and then changing back. I want kids to
see themselves as the agent that makes things happen, not the computer. At
first its a little freaky that way, but I hope its ultimately more
empowering as well. And I think it better reflects reality: a computer is a
tool, a prosthesis for thinking. Like a bicycle is for transportation.

I describe it as currently in "beta", meaning that, while there are some
rough edges, the ideas and activities might be useful to others even so.
Feedback would be very useful to have now to make it better. Again, it will
never have advertising.

Its currently set up as a wiki, under a Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License 2.0, which I used because _A
byte of python_ used it. I have it as wiki to emphasize that I'd love to
include others as hands-on contributors (see #2).

2. The second reason for this post is to say:  I know it can be way better.
I think its good enough that I can wing it through the fall, but it would be
cool to partner with a) people who have elementary & middle-school education
experience with programming (esp python), and b) know OO and good projects
for introducing it. I know the website is currently just the start of what
it could be. It currently reads like notes for either self-guided
exploration by kids, but given various gaps in the description (hopefully
filled soon) its probably best thought of as structured notes for an
informed adult to use when leading a small group of kids. Its not complete
yet, and I will be revising after seeing how kids interact with it. Its not
lesson plans, although I could see some of the material being used in that
way, with more work.

- feedback of any kind would be terrific, don't hold back just to be polite.
(As a scientist, all my day-job work gets peer reviewed, at times "tersely",
shall we say. it took some getting used to but now I love getting frank
feedback because ultimately it makes for a better product.) So if anything
moves you one way or another, I'd love to know and won't be offended. This
is not to say I'll change things to reflect every comment, of course, but I
definitely promise to read and consider them all closely. More importantly,
if you have a lot to add, I'd love to have collaborators as well.

- I've set it up as a wiki with the idea that eventually there may be
several editors, developers, and caretakers (a few, not the whole world).
Please email me to talk about possibilities. For example, currently, there's
nothing that uses graphics, which of course are very engaging, especially
for this age group. currently, there's nothing that uses or explains OO,
despite python being strongly OO. getting to games would be good. And I'm
not convinced that being hosted on pbwiki is best, either. So there's room
to grow as well.

to comment on anything, you can either email me personally (jrgray at gmail.com,
which is the same email for the wiki owner) or just leave a comment at the
end of a particular wiki page (I think they make you sign up for an account
an login to leave a comment).

Anyway, its nice to be joining this community.

best regards,


      Jeremy R. Gray, PhD
      Assistant Professor, Yale University
      Dept. of Psychology & Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program
      web        http://www.yale.edu/scan/
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