Teaching programming concepts to kids

Dave Smith dave at thesmithfam.org
Sat Nov 11 10:20:19 MST 2006

Michael Torrie wrote:
> BASIC-256 teaches BASIC in an interactive way

I got into programming during high school math class on my TI-82's 
BASIC. It was great for one reason: it was limited. The last thing you 
want a newcomer to learn is the entire Java API or the C++ Standard 
Library, when all they want to do is write a text-based game.

I believe the best way to get kids started is with some kind of simple 
language (like BASIC, but it doesn't really matter) in a very limited 
environment with a minimal set of graphics functions. This will give 
them just enough to whet their appetite, and leave them begging for 
more. Once they start begging, then you let them jump into a more 
mainstream language, where they won't be intimidated thanks to the 
momentum they've already accrued.

And now for some anecdotal evidence: A 14-year old in my neighborhood 
got a home breadboard and programmable BASIC microprocessor for 
Christmas last year. He learned all about looping and conditionals, and 
his only output were a few LEDs and a small servo. He loved it. However, 
if I had thrown the entire STL at him, I think he would have given up. 
Bare in mind that this is a very smart kid, but milk before meat.

Last thought: There is one concept that *must* be shown to would-be 
programmers to help them make the leap from writing a list of 
instructions to actual programming, and that is this:

   i = i + 1

When a friend showed me that statement on my TI-82, it opened a whole 
new world for me. There is a lot of power in being able to define a 
value in terms of itself. For me, it was a turning point. I'm confident 
that most people have a similar story.


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