Learning programming: the deep end of the pool

Computer Science Prof Zack Kurmas writes about the challenge of teaching introductory programming:

> I believe that expecting a student to learn to program well enough to study Computer Science in a single 15-week course is almost as absurd as expecting a student with no instrumental musical experience to be ready to join the university orchestra after 15 weeks. There are, of course, musical prodigies that can handle this challenge. Likewise, there are many “natural born programmers” who learn how to program with very little apparent effort.

Kurmas makes some very good points: that almost every other college programme has some basis of preparation in a standard high school curriculum, hence creating a much steeper learning curve for CS; that CS education could be better modelled after a foreign language learning framework; and finally, that he might just not be very well-suited to teaching intro CS, as a “natural-born” programmer.

This post was linked from Steve Losh’s response, which is also a good read for CS students and educators. Losh provides an interesting analogy about the difficulty of learning programming and dancing:

> The first plateau of programming is the syntax and the first plateau of dancing is footwork. The bad part about this is that dancing when you only know footwork or programming when you only know syntax isn’t much fun. You can’t do all of the most interesting things that make these skills so rewarding.


You might have already seen this, since mrbrown linked to it on Twitter. Posting on the blog for posterity anyway:


It’s been a lifelong* ambition of mine to get a LOLcat picture published**, but this will have to do for now.

* Mild exaggeration.

** This may or may not have influenced how much I supported Joey when she adopted our ridiculous cat. Shh, don’t tell her.