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Java is a poor language for beginners; its syntax is obtuse and foreign-looking, it makes graphics unnecessarily tedious, and it requires the heavy Java Virtual Machine. For all the hemming about programming languages, the hardest part for these students was solving puzzles in English, not Java. The AP Computer Science test is a carrot for high schoolers, but it’s not a very tasty one. Tutoring started with two hours of guidance through a REPL, with only primitives, no variables, to impart a sense of the underpinnings of programming. That’s Java written to be understood, without nice things like graphics, a visual language, or step-through evaluation. Learning concepts like while loops and booleans, on their own, isn’t very interesting. Tools in hand, we began solving puzzles; students made Magic 8 Balls, Bitcoin, Hangman AIs, Chatterbots, and more. Every word in the editor explains itself when you hover over it; these make code more understandable, so you can concentrate on genuine programming concepts rather than fancy terminology.
Two of the trickiest concepts for this summer’s programmers were variables and variable scope.
To figure out how computers actually could help people learn, I spent the summer teaching students and building software. We’re still pretty bad at teaching programming, and programming presumably lends itself more naturally to computer-aided pedagogy than, say, geography. The students who take the class either have been coding for awhile, though probably not in Java, or are motivated by the AP credential but don’t yet understand computers.


Their banging produced better mental models, so they could anticipate what code would do when run. Without any ideas for how programming’s pieces hang together, computers are incomprehensible. The REPL’s prompts, honed by tutoring, introduce new tools and suggest things to type.
Piecemeal introductions, like this one, allow learners to build up a set of tools and the skills to use them. Bounded repetition and truthiness are powerful ideas, but they can seem quaint novelties at best a€” and trivial distractions at worst a€” when you’re doing something like printing numbers, and it takes you longer to print with a loop than it would to type the numbers directly.
They made these things on their own, using the tools they knew, and their successes were sweet because they took work. Their standard interface is borrowed from the command line, which is neither friendly nor forgiving, and it doesn’t acknowledge what makes code different from text. Most programming tools don’t help students think through logic, experiment quickly, and recover from failed experiments, but they should.
Journalists and politicians with half-baked ideas about electricity were bound to demand the impossible from electric companies and stir up public fear and resentment against their business.
By the turn of the century, various electrical trades employed nearly a million people, making electric light and power one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing industries. Tremendous thanks to: Barbara Andersen, Ryan Bednar, Tom Blomfield, Christina Bognet, David Boylan, Libby Brittain, Avi Bryant, Britt Caputo, Gary Chou, Peter Coles, Patrick Collison, Harold Cooper, Leigh Ann DeLyser, Georges Duverger, Eric Florenzano, Pamela Fox, Leo Franchi, Avichal Garg, Elad Gil, Erik Goldman, Jonah Greenberger, Marc Hedlund, Oliver Ho, Bob Ippolito, Vichi Jagannathan, Joy Kesten, Nina Khosla, Evan Korth, Sasha Laundy, Dana Ledyard, Greg Leppert, Roxanne Leung, Roddy Lindsay, Ted Lee, Hannah Ma, Amjad Masad, Naseem Makiya, Ben Newman, Akshay Patil, Peter Pawlowski, Ben Plesser, Jason Prado, Geoff Ralston, Myles Recny, Josh Schwarzapel, Star Simpson, Jon Steinback, Matt Spitz, David Tisch, Matt Wahl, Albert Wenger, Ryan Williams, Fred Wilson, Tash Wong, Christine Yen, and Ivan Zhao.
Letting a motivated person loose, unguided, on today’s programming tools is probably the fastest way to exasperate her.


A class is a sheet, its attributes are columns, and constructing an instance means filling in a row.
Some of the teaching is in Java, and some in Python, but it all hewed to the material on TeachAPCS.
Better education seemed the answer, and many industry leaders called not only for technical training for electrical workers and engineers but the addition of electrical science in the high school curriculum. Progressive educators did not care so much about producing good employees for the electric companies, but they agreed that every American student should receive at least the rudiments of a technical education. And though the software I built helped (I needed to explain, debug, or unstick each student less as it improved) students still had to slog through problems they’d never seen. Students quickly began to develop a mental model of what it means to talk to their computer. But the tooltip does give a better starting point than a confusing term amongst a sea of confusing terms.
Then the environment tracks the variables and values, underneath a header of where they’re seen. But it seems not to have been pursued whole-heartedly, and my summer implies it has a good chance of succeeding.




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