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

Warren Sande warren.sande at rogers.com
Thu Aug 21 09:22:44 CEST 2008


I was at the same point a couple years ago, and reached the same conclusion.  Long story short, the end result is  "Hello World!  Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners"  which I wrote with my son.  It will be released in a few weeks.  Some edu-sig folks were involved in the review process (Thanks, all!)

You can see the publisher's page here: http://www.manning.com/sande/.

You can pre-order it on Amazon here.  

It uses Python (and Pygame and PythonCard).  Some examples are games, but many more are not.  It takes a fairly traditional approach to teaching beginning programming.  I think the presentation, writing style, illustrations, and examples make it suitable for kids 10 and up.  Several adults who reviewed it said they would use it, too, which I was really happy to hear.  We absolutely tried to avoid "talking down" to the reader, while also trying to make it fun.

Warren Sande


----- Original Message ----
From: Jeremy Gray <jrgray at gmail.com>
To: edu-sig at python.org
Sent: Tuesday, August 19, 2008 12:44:41 PM
Subject: [Edu-sig] after-school python, age 11+

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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