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jordan (120)

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Journal of jordan (120)

Thursday August 22, 2002
09:39 PM

My 11 year old wants to learn to program

[ #7255 ]

I'm thinking Scheme. You can get into it really simply, using it as just an imperitive language for graphics, or perhaps even generating HTML.

Oh, did I mention she also wants to get into HTML in a big way? She wants to maintain a Guild at Neopets.

I thought simple programs to generate the pages like:

(html-meta 'Title (style 1))
(html-heading 1 "Schedule for Today")
(html-table (html-table-head "Time" "Activity")
            (map html-table-row (Activity-times)

You get the idea. I think I can demonstrate simple data types, how to execute simple functions and define them, introduce concepts like conditionals and map. All in the context of outputting simple HTML pages.

Maybe introduce loops and do something like:

(setq pages '(intro activities fun ... ))
(do ([page (car pages)]
     [pages (cdr pages)])
    ((not null? pages))
     (html-meta (title page) (style page))
     (html-page page)
     (html-footer page)

And push down the individual page detail down into specific routines, while automating the common elements for look-and-feel.

I think stuff like the above is a lot more understandable and maintainable than straight HTML. Especially since I have a choice of good easy-to-use editors for Scheme code. I'm looking at the PLT Scheme environment.

I'm thinking that straight functional will be easier to grasp than languages that depend on infix algebra.

I've looked at Logo and I'm turned off by it. It's just a toy. What's learned there will necessarily need to be thrown away in a few years. A good Scheme environment could be made to work for arbitrary programming tasks for years to come. The MzScheme system at the heart of the PLT Tools is easily extended in C, so any API could be introduced. I played with interfacing it to C a few years ago and it's easy.

What do people think? Any suggestions about how to go about this? Am I crazy thinking a lisp-like language will be good to ease into slowly?

I know, maybe I should take this to a place where they discuss Scheme. I don't particularly feel comfortable there, though. I do somewhat feel comfortable here.

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  • I'd say: go for it.

    I've found that many people, including myself, can have trouble grokking functional programming after years of any other sort. If you get Scheme in there before, say, Perl, I would imagine they'd end up a better programmer (being able to grasp all sorts of different languages).

      ---ict / Spoon
  • Scheme is really optimal for teaching a beginner of any age how to program, simply because you get around the basic stuff quickly and into more advanced things. The PLT group has been doing a LOT of research into making programming accessible to beginners -- you should in particular look at the How to Design Programs book, as well as a couple of papers by Shriram Krishnamurthi that deal with using Scheme as a web language. Links of importance:
  • Sounds like a great idea to me. I wish someone had taught me scheme at 11. I'd say do everything as functional as you can, though; no imperative style. That will be easy enough to learn later.

    J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers
    • I agree about doing it as functional as possible and I plan to.

      I think that strictly speaking, even sequencing operations is procedural, not functional.


      (html-meta ...)
      (html-table ...)
      (html-footer ...)

      Is essentially procedural in nature.

      The functional way to do this, I believe, would be something like:

      (map html-gen
            '((meta parm1 parm2 parm3)
                (table parm1 parm2 parm3)
                (footer parm1 parm2 parm3)))

      Maybe I

      • I'm not as into Lisp and functional programming as I want to be, so I can't provide expert insight. All I can say is what I wish. :)

        Definitely search out Paul Graham's material on the net and absorb.

        Should I really go to the trouble of eliminating sequencing?

        I am not educated enough to say on that, yet.

        If I'm going to go this route, no setq's either. Just call the outer driver with literal lists.

        I do think avoiding setq's is good.

        I learned scheme followed by Lisp, and the way I was taught mad

        J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers
          • Definitely search out Paul Graham's material on the net and absorb.

          I'm familiar with Paul Graham, but from what I can tell, he leans heavily toward Common Lisp and is pretty advanced. I prefer stuff like SICP [], HtDP [], the refreshingly simple TYSiFD [] and The Scheme Programming Language []. All online! None of these texts is appropriate for my 11 year old, but I'm using some of their approaches as inspiration.

          • Bah! There are plenty of scheme programmers here (and I'm not talking about folks like me who can't
  • Sounds cool.

    One word of caution -- make sure your daughter appreciates the dangers of RSI, and takes regular breaks, etc.. A friend of mine did a ton of programming as a child, and after many years of continuous abuse, his wrists failed (in a BIG way) in college. Last time we talked he was still writing in one-inch tall letters.