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Brian Blais 03-10-2007 03:33 PM

minimum age to learn python (a.k.a graphical vs text languages)
 
Hello,

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?


thanks,

Brian Blais

--
-----------------

bblais@bryant.edu
http://web.bryant.edu/~bblais

sjdevnull@yahoo.com 03-10-2007 07:10 PM

Re: minimum age to learn python (a.k.a graphical vs text languages)
 
Brian Blais wrote:
> Hello,
>
> 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.


Our elementary school taught LOGO on the Apple II in either 3rd or 4th
grade, and the more advance math students got some BASIC by 5th
grade. It was just a regular school, so it seems to me like kids in
the age range you're discussing are fully capable of learning at least
some programming.


Michel Claveau 03-10-2007 07:27 PM

Re: minimum age to learn python (a.k.a graphical vs text languages)
 
Hi!

Personally, I was yet in the belly of my mom, whom I already thought in
Python…







--
@-salutations

Michel Claveau



James Stroud 03-11-2007 01:54 AM

Re: minimum age to learn python (a.k.a graphical vs text languages)
 
Brian Blais wrote:
> Hello,
>
> 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?
>
>
> thanks,
>
> Brian Blais
>


Probably, its not so much that graphical is easy to learn, but, for
kids, I'm guessing that its less boring than text-based. They already
understand a lot about programming by customizing their video games on
the Wii, or whatever Sony playbox X.

Really, What you need is a "first person shooter" programming language.
Perhaps, make them program their own guns or "power moves". Have
competitions at the end of the week using the guns they create. There's
nothing like learning to program by programming a bullet to follow a
quadratic spline through a maze of corridors, nailing an opponent whose
position was calculated by triangulation.

You'll see who the good programmers are then. Probably, you'll see some
of the best programming of your life.

James

MonkeeSage 03-11-2007 05:22 AM

Re: minimum age to learn python (a.k.a graphical vs text languages)
 
" "first person shooter" programming language "

OMG! Thank's freakin awsome, lol!!!


Paddy 03-11-2007 07:52 AM

Re: minimum age to learn python (a.k.a graphical vs text languages)
 
On Mar 10, 3:33 pm, Brian Blais <bbl...@bryant.edu> wrote:
> Hello,
>
> I was wondering what the approximate minimum age to learn python is.

<SNIP>>
>
> 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?
>
> thanks,
>
> Brian Blais


My two year old son is well on the way to becoming a great
programmer ;-)
He is learning to use the mouse and can navigate his way through the
menus to
the games and songs he likes when left on the cbeebies home page at
http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/ and is currently trying to get
coordinated
enough to play a tobogganing game.
Teaching method used was to spend too much time yourself on the laptop
with
son in lap watching Hi-5 or a Wombles video, on screen-2.

Currently Dominic and I are potty training. After that we'll start on
decorators and maybe weakref.

- Paddy.




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