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Education Programming

Khan Academy Chooses JavaScript As Intro Language 355

Posted by timothy
from the thus-speaks-khan dept.
jfruh writes "Slashdotters (many of whom cut their teeth on much-maligned BASIC) have long debated what language kids should learn programming in. Khan Academy, the wildly popular producer of educational videos, has come up with an unorthodox choice: JavaScript, not least because of its ability to keep kids' attention with something fun and graphical."
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Khan Academy Chooses JavaScript As Intro Language

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  • Logo! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 01, 2012 @12:43PM (#39210155)

    Silly mongols, you should use logo. You can even get physical, pen-wielding turtle periferals to show how what you code can make something real move.

    Ok, it really isn't good for much of anything beyond geometric drawings with nested for loops, but it has immediate, visible results using a subset of normal coding logic.

  • Sane choice (Score:2, Insightful)

    by acak (2362174) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @12:47PM (#39210211)
    This move should be vindicated in the near future. But I do have some qualms:

    - Appreciating data-types, their limitations and the perils of using casting them incorrectly helped me a lot in understanding about things I need to be careful about

    - Are they going skip the concept of Pointers ? It's not wise to use them unless necessary but to be aware of the concept was very rewarding for me

    - How will they teach multi-threaded programming? We're not quite there yet in JS.

    ... (insert other features here)

    If they switch to another language to teach stuff which JS doesn't support, they might lose their audience and so blind side a large set of them.
  • by sehlat (180760) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @12:51PM (#39210279)

    Javascript is a baby language for unskilled and sloppy programmers, so it'll fit right in. Javascript fagets need to learn a grown-up language. They only write in Javascript because there faget asses can't hack it in something better.

    Cue trolls and linguistic snobbery. If you can get the kids et. al. interested in learning, 90% of the battle is won. The other 10% is debugging. :)

  • by 0racle (667029) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @12:51PM (#39210281)
    By that, no one would do anything, you weren't born knowing how to do anything. You have to start somewhere.
  • Re:Sane choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tedgyz (515156) * on Thursday March 01, 2012 @12:52PM (#39210287) Homepage

    Since when do you teach complex casts and threading in an intro course? For crying out loud, I know engineers with 5+ years experience that still don't fully grok multi-threaded issues.

  • I personally think it's a horrible choice. If you don't know enough about computers to install Python, you probably don't know enough about computers to learn how to code.

    That's a pretty stupid thing to say, you must really be trolling or be really dumb. I was introduced to programming with BASIC, and procedural programming with LOGO, and just look at me now, I can't code shit! *ahem* Seriously though, people were learning programming before "installing" was something you could do on your personal computer.

  • by mwvdlee (775178) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @12:54PM (#39210323) Homepage

    Javascript fagets need to learn a grown-up language.

    Why bother learning a grown-up language if you're unable to act like a grown-up?

  • by a2wflc (705508) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @01:02PM (#39210459)

    Since then he's gotten pretty good with Java, C#, C, and python and played with F#.

    The key part of the title is "intro language". Seems like some comments are expecting kids to come out of this and write the next Office suit, or Google competitor, or missile guidance system. I think javascript is a great way to see if a kid wants to do more.

  • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @01:18PM (#39210689)
    Exactly. The ability to go straight from learning to doing is absolutely critical for teaching programming. If I hadn't picked up my older brothers TI-85 when I was in junior high and started fiddling with his programs, I might not be doing programming today.
  • Bad idea... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by xyourfacekillerx (939258) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @01:22PM (#39210757)

    Teaching programming to children isn't even about teaching PC's or teaching a particular language, it's about imparting the ideas behind turning "what we want the computer to do" in our imagination (the kids will later call this algorithms) into instructions for the computer. BASIC and others are languages were designed as introductory because they can be used without much regard for external environment, allowing a natural focus on the fundamentals of all programming in general.

    The child then develops an intuitive understanding of what s/he will later describe as algorithms, data structures, and programming languages, or platforms, in general; they develop the theoretical foundations subconsciously via exercise, habit and practice, (and for the gifted, introspection and critical thinking), so they can be taught these concepts formally with ease later on. At that time, the choice of programming language isn't much of an issue.

    But this? JavaScript requires the teaching of an environment and pre-existing objects like DOM that have nothing to do with the above goals and will certainly diminish the natural intuitive development of the appropriate concepts involved with programming. They are not learning how to translate their imagination into instructions as a general practice; they are learning how to manipulate specific pre-determined objects outside the scope of theoretical concerns. This is bad for them. This will limit them.

    As an aside, let's face it, this is motivated by business. 1) JavaScript will be a heavily used language in the immediate future, 2) Khan prepares students to use JavaScript, 3) Khan's students are equipped with business-world skills and succeed, 4) Khan claims statistics reflect it competes well in the education market place, 5) Khan gets money.

    Meanwhile Khan's students have to learn the basics of programming the hard way. Like a GED student picking up calculus at age 35 struggles with it, so will those students.

  • I don't get why Python isn't the choice here. Javascript, I find, is a horribly ugly language, harder to understand and code in than most, and with more quirks, special cases, and generally horrible-to-work in language design choices than pretty much any other language in common use today.

    Python does it right for learning. It teaches good practices (indentation, code readability), it aims to not surprise the user, it's a well designed language which is very good at being consistant, and in general is nice to learn in. Not only that, but it avoids the low-level stuff (which isn't that relevant when you are first learning to code) and instead teaches you the higher-level concepts which are more important. It's also got a large, well documented standard library, and is interpreted, so you can use it as a prompt, and don't have to worry about compiling. It's also cross platform, free and open.

    I'm not going to lie, I don't like JavaScript, and I've never got why people like it. I can understand using it - it's the only real choice for scripting on the web - but to use it out of choice, or teach in? I don't get it. Fun and graphical? Not really - then it requires an understanding of HTML and CSS too, which is either going to be done wrong or be too much.

    My main problem is the line

    Resig admits JavaScript, as a language, has its warts and issues, but so do all languages.

    - This is true, but some languages try really hard to avoid them, and some fix them. Python is an example of both - Python 3 fixes a number of issues with the language, and in general, with the process of PEPs and not being afraid of pushing the language forward, Python has turned into an extremely polished language with very few issues. JavaScript on the other hand, is full of them - and there is no real effort to fix them, as far as I know of, at the moment.

  • Re:Logo! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @01:37PM (#39211017) Homepage Journal
    Scratch not so darling [slashdot.org]. Maybe for the first couple of videos, but then what? Personally, I think the decision to go with JS was a good compromise. This should prove to be the exact opposite of going with Java, which actively drove students away by being too formal for a first date.
  • by TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @01:41PM (#39211075) Journal

    If you don't know enough about computers to install Python, you probably don't know enough about computers to learn how to code.

    Coding is not a computer skill, it's a logical skill. It's about translating abstract intentions into a well-defined precise logical language. The skill is knowing how to efficiently turn your ideas into instructions that a machine can carry out. That's why it's so transferable between platforms and languages, because it's really a skill that's independent of a computer. It would be more than possible, for example, to teach someone who's never seen a computer to write pseudocode.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @02:00PM (#39211371) Journal
    Yup. And it's a really stupid idea giving kids lego bricks too. I mean, how often do you see a house or a bridge built out of lego? And what about meccano? I've never seen anyone make a car out of meccano! These toys have no place in education.
  • Re:Sane choice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DarkOx (621550) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @02:14PM (#39211643) Journal

    Pointers in anything other than the very lowest-level-touching-the-metal code are an abomination. They cause far more confusion and grief than they ever help. Yes, there are situations in which the best way to address a problem is to pass a pointer around. However, in this day and age of multi-gigabyte ram sticks, I'd rather bloat up a program's ram usage with maybe unnecessary copies of large objects than dick around with pointers.

    I am going to disagree. There is basically no difference between C pointers and the byRef concept in all the higher level languages. It requires the same understanding, its just slightly different vocabulary and syntax.

    C method is superior because it makes it CLEAR when things are being passed by value and when they are not.

    C method is superior because it makes programmers consciously decide every time, if a reference or value should be passed. Not doing this results in code that passes massive objects by value and causes performance/resource issues, or often hard to solve bugs where values change in unexpected ways because multiple references exist and its not clear they are only references not clones.

    Not having pointer syntax is a mistake most modern languages are making IMHO.

  • by mckinnsb (984522) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @02:15PM (#39211667)

    It's a great way to introduce kids to the basics of programming languages without miring them in the ( necessary as they grow more proficient ) details of memory management and computer science fundamentals such as data design and system architecture. It also falls into a very interesting class of languages - a class by its own really - which exposes kids to some of the concepts of procedural languages and some of the concepts of imperative languages.

    But more importantly, Javascript - whether or not more traditional computer scientists like I would like to accept it - is likely a gigantic component of the computing future. Its the language that runs on the most platforms, and is used for nearly everything. Right now, many of us are familiar with how Javascript handles interactivity on webpages, but did you know that Javascript is actually used to route the majority of phone calls placed through cell networks? Did you know that most SmartTV manufacturers ( GoogleTV, Samsung )are producing SDK's and API's to produce "Apps" on their televisions written 100% in javascript (instead of the "window" host object you have "volume"...etc)? Did you know that it's being used in factories ( along with python ) to control the movements of industrial robots? With the advent of server-side event-based asynchronous web programming in javascript like Node.js as well, and the beastly v8 engine being BSD licensed, its importance will only increase over time as people find more ways to embed it as the primary interface scripting layer.

    It's good thing to expose people to, for sure.

  • Re:Multi threading (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gewalker (57809) <Gary DOT Walker AT AstraDigital DOT com> on Thursday March 01, 2012 @02:45PM (#39212115)

    Not happening to know the term "lock convoy" does not imply that said programmer is unfamiliar with the issues. If you learned multi-threading long ago (like I did), no-one had invented the cute description, but you certainly knew how what the condition was and possible methods of mitigation. Sounds like a stupid "tech interview" type of question.

    I have programmed using threads in a number of different environments (phtreads, dce threads, and windows threads) in a number of different languages, and have taught threaded programming -- I have also threaded needles, reattached buttons, sewed, embroidered and read most of the Dragon Riders of Pern [wikipedia.org] series. I am a skilled and experienced threader. I had never heard of a lock convoy until now, but have certainly dealt with this precise issue before..

    I suspect you would not have just asked this question and "stopped the interview" because I did not know this term, but I get tired of hearing statements similar to yours, and worse, I've caught myself saying similar things.

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