TITLE: Back to the Basics. Accelerated AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: April 07, 2006 11:33 PM DESC: ----- BODY: The SIGCSE mailing list has been alive this week with a thread that started with pseudocode, moved to flowcharts, and eventually saddened a lot of readers. At the center of the thread is the age-old tension among CS educators that conflates debates between bottom-up and top-down, low-level and high-level, machine versus abstraction, and "the fundamentals" with "the latest trends". I don't mean to rehash the whole thread here, but I do want to share my favorite line in the discussion. Suffice to say: Someone announced an interest in introducing programming via a few weeks of working in pseudocode, which would allow students to focus on algorithms without the distraction of compilers. He asked for advice on tools and resources. A group of folks reported having had success with a similar idea, only using flowchart tools. Others reported the advantages of lightweight assembly-language style simulators. The discussion became a lovefest for the lowest-level details in CS1. My friend and colleague Joe Bergin, occasionally quoted here, saw where this was going. He eventually sent an impassioned and respectful message to the SIGCSE list, imploring folks to look forward and not backwards. In a message sent to a few of us who are preparing for next week's ChiliPLoP 2006 conference, he wrote what became the closing salvo in his response.
The pseudocode thread on the SIGCSE list is incredibly depressing. ... Why not plugboards early? Why not electromechanical relays early? Why not abacus early?
An "abacus-early" curriculum. Now, there's the fundamentals of computing! Who needs "objects first", "objects early", "procedures early", "structured programming", ...? Assignment statements and for-loops are johnny-come-latelys to the game. Code? Pshaw. Let's get back to the real basics. Joe, you are my hero. (Of course, I am being facetious. We all know that computing reached its zenith when C sprang forth as whole cloth from Bell Labs.) Am I too young to be an old fogey tired of the same old discussions? Am I too young to be a guy who likes to learn new things and help students do the same? I can say that I was happy to see that Joe's message pulled a couple of folks out of the shadows to say what really matters: that we need to share with students the awesome beauty and power of computing, to help them master this new way of thinking that is changing the world as we live. All the rest is details. -----