When I taught my first programming class this past year, I decided to teach the class in Java. My co-workers at the time gave me a bit of flack for this. I should be teaching Go or Python or something with a little better reputation.
Java was looked at as the C++ killer as I remember when it first came out. It go overhyped, is the bane of everyone’s desktop with near daily updates it seems, and it isn’t the prettiest language compared to more minimal programming styles.
So why bother teaching it? Particularly if it is semantically dense or harder to read?
Java is free, it’s IDE’s are free, and they supposedly work on all systems. Sure, web programming has this quality too, but Java introduces application style development to students that’s different from the web and emphasizes further the use of object-oriented programming.
Furthermore, it provides an introduction to library packages and it gives students the chance to type something and see something happening that’s not the command line.
Compilation and Typing
These are two concepts that we could say aren’t really that big of deal, but they are conceptually necessary for students to grasp. Programs are typically compiled and by just introducing this requirement you can illuminate the critical concepts of a compiler, build pipelines and the different varieties of code that takes you all the way down to the ones and zeroes.
Likewise, typing, while not a huge issue for non-space critical systems like a laptop, inform students how memory allocation works, why people care, and how programs are designed with memory in mind.
It’s more semantics, but a class is supposed to teach concepts as well as practical programming. Those concepts make the practical lessons more effective.
I believe there’s a certain level of work that’s necessary for a concept to stick with students. The more details, the more attention is demanded and the really important practices of programming tend to become ingrained in the process of memorizing minor details like the labels for different types.
Think about it - when you’re learning typing you are repeatedly thinking about variables and what they really mean, which then lays the groundwork for more complex data types like arrays and finally designing your own types with classes.
I’m sure this sounds like a dad telling shoveling snow builds character. But I’ll take it - when you need to teach novice students, programming too requires character building.
Thursday, February 18, 2016