Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 20th Sep 2012 20:27 UTC, submitted by MOS6510
General Development "Online Python Tutor is a free educational tool that helps students overcome a fundamental barrier to learning programming: understanding what happens as the computer executes each line of a program's source code. Using this tool, a teacher or student can write a Python program directly in the web browser and visualize what the computer is doing step-by-step as it executes the program."
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RE: barrier...learning
by dnebdal on Fri 21st Sep 2012 07:27 UTC in reply to "barrier...learning"
dnebdal
Member since:
2008-08-27

"helps students overcome a fundamental barrier to learning programming: understanding what happens as the computer executes each line of a program's source


While the tool and the approach itself seems nice, I still think that it's done backwards. The students need to be explained and taught how a computer works, how code is executed, what happens when a program runs, how and what instructions do, and then the barrier will not exist anymore. Such tools can be useful in explaining all that, for sure, but not as a programming-learning tool, more a programming/language-understanding tool.
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I don't necessarily think that's the best approach for everyone. Starting at the high-end helps ease the student into thinking in an appropriately structured way. There is a certain barrier in understanding just how rigidly things are interpreted, and just how generic the building blocks are - and how to structure something to get the intended results. With that in place, digging deeper is easier: If you can understand not-entirely-trivial python programs, it's possible to understand (roughly!) how the python interpreter has to work, and from there on to "it's also (maybe indirectly) (sys-)calling the kernel to get certain things done" isn't a giant leap. The details of what makes the kernel special (memory mapping & swapping, interrupts, locking, IO, etc.) follow naturally, and somewhere in that it makes sense to look at how a CPU actually works.

Starting top-down does probably lead to more sloppy programmers, since they might not care as much about the lower levels when they feel they can already do something useful. Starting bottom-up will probably bore some potentially good future programmers to death (since they won't see the use yet), and does probably lead to more myopic programmers (the microƶptimization above structure - type).

And no, I'm really not sure what the best solution is. "Everything at once" would be great, but that might not be completely doable...

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