Why I can program...

And Johnny can't.

Salon has a good article on the accessibility of learning programming for kids today vs. when I was growing up and before. The problem today, says the article, is that there's no easily available, simple language to learn. I started with QBASIC in 4th grade, a language that came standard in DOS and I thought was pretty cool. I could make it play music, draaw shapes on the screen, write text-based games. I had a lot of fun with it. More importantly, I learned basic programming constructs- like IF statements, loops, random numbers, and some semblence of functions- at an early age. The great part was, any computer had this language and a way to write and run programs through Windows 95-ish. When I was in my 7th-grade computer applications class, I would get done with my assignments very early, then open up QBASIC and make my own colorful screen saver or have my computer play music on the lab computers with no speakers, making everyone turn and look. While computer today are definitely easier to use for children, and therefore they are able to become users at a younger age, programming isn't as available.

The article also discusses how many math textbooks would make programming more accessible to kids by including a BASIC program with the lesson, so students could learn both the concept and how a computer would implement it. The only textbook I had with this was in jr high, and I definitely went and tried out the factoring-a-polynomial program, and much to my delight, it worked and made homework go much faster. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can properly factor a polynomial on paper...

Wanna try it out yourself? Wanna save QBASIC for future generations?
Download QBASIC and the help file.

Coming later this weekend: Reports of adventures at another dog show, a Lebanon festival, and a fancy party. Bonus: Lunch with friends on Sunday!


Matt said...

When I read, "programming isn't as available", at first I thought, "Huh? All of my computers have a bunch of programming environments set up on them." Perl, ruby, C, C++... Then I thought, "oh yeah! that other OS!" :)

Anyways, your post reminded me of the magazines I used to get when I was a kid that had BASIC programs in them, and McGruder the Friendly Computer, which had a number guessing game program in it, etc. It was always fun to play around with BASIC when I had some time for that.

And, while they probably won't have BASIC or QBASIC on them, I'm pretty sure that all of my computers will continue to come with programming/dev environments on them. Go Mac/Linux/BSD. :)

Joanna said...

When I was in mid-elementary school, I got a magazine that had programs to type into QBASIC too, and I loved trying them out, then modifying them & see what happened... What is comparable to that today, do you think?

Ashley said...

I was playing dolls in elementary school. Sometimes I used the computer to play "Writer Rabbit", or to make pretty pictures in Paint. That's as close as I got to programming. :-)

Joanna said...

Ah, Writer Rabbit. I played Reader Rabbit too. And I didn't play with Paint so much- I thought KidPix was the coolest drawing program ever.


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