Teaching Coding - getting beyond superficial syntax

The other day, Alfred Thompson put up a piece about coding in multiple languages. Alfred references a post written last May by Rob Underwood.

Both pieces are worth a look.

Rob is trying to illustrate many of the superficial similarities in popular languages.

In the comments on Alfred's blog, both Alfred and I alluded to coding in an appropriate style for the language.

For me the issue is even bigger.

Learning to code is all the rage and places to learn are popping out of the woodwork.

There are:

  • In classes, in schools, with teachers
  • Drop in programs in schools.
  • Programs run by coding schools
  • Moocs and other online resources
  • Summer and weekend programs

And probably more. All of these options are giving more and more people a way to learn to code.

That's great, but it also raises concerns given that very few people involved in CS education have both strong teaching and CS backgrounds.

What I'm starting to see are the results as I meet young people coming out of all of these programs.

Unfortunately, what I'm frequently seeing, at best, is very superficial coverage of syntax.

I've seen kids who would have no basis for understanding that the ramifications of this Python code:

a = 30
def f():
  print a

print a

and this Javascript code:

a = 30;
function f(){
  a = 20  

are very different.

It gets worse when I meet kids who "know C" because they were exposed to constructs like:

for (i=0;i<10;i++){
 // code goes here

I think the most common issue come from kids being "taught" programming using javascript which seems deceptively simple but is really rather deep.

It's important that as CS becomes more mainstream that we make sure that we have teachers and programs that are teaching the real deal. It can be fun and accessible but it does require teachers that know their stuff and are willing to continue to learn.

Do our kids deserve any less?


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