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Students get computer programming experience from the pros

Published June 5, 2013 6:17 pm

Future workforce • Nonprofit and programming company teamed up to teach next generation.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sandy • Independent programmer Llewellyn Falco explained one of the most important rules of computer programming.

"Be as lazy as possible," he said to the group of elementary to high school students whose heads poked over square computer monitors in the Jordan High School library as he taught them how to use the Java programming language.

He taught the students to select words from a list rather than typing them out in order to avoid spelling errors. He also said to let the computer do the math, because computers are good at math.

The students applied this rule to make a tortoise draw a blue-sided square, which gained more colors, sides and complexity as the lesson proceeded. Midway through the lesson, the box had evolved into a multicolored spiral.

"[It is] a lot of fun," said Bridger Belyea, a junior at Jordan High school.

The lesson was part of an experiment featuring six Utah schools presented by Teaching Kids Programming, a nonprofit group, and Pluralsight, an Ogden-based company that offers training for professional programmers. The Teaching Kids Programming website hosts videos aimed to help middle school children learn how to program, but Lynn Langit, an independent programmer who volunteers and teaches worldwide for the program, said children learn better from a teacher than on their own.

"One of the reasons we founded this is because there is a shortage of computer science teachers that know how to program because most people who know how to program become programmers," Langit said. "We're going out to schools, teaching, introducing our methodology to a bunch of teachers, and then we have this [online] library where they can use it in their school or after school."

Pluralsight also hosted the videos on their website where they are available at no charge. One aim is to encourage programmers to teach programming to their children and at their children's school.

"If [students] make it up to high school without ever being exposed to programming, chances are they're never going to be exposed to it," said Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight. "So the big challenge is just getting kids an opportunity to be exposed to the world of programming and software development and once you crack that door open they'll just keep going. We've seen it over and over again. I've seen it with my two boys."

Skonnard said students enjoy learning how to program.

"At [West High School], the kids didn't want to stop," Skonnard said. "It's really cool to see, and we definitely saw tons of excitement."

Nick Wood, a junior at Brighton High school, thought the lesson was helpful.

"I learned some more stuff that basically I would not have thought of because I'm relatively new at programming," he said.

Nick is interested in a computer related career and is taking a similar programming class.

"That's a pretty cool class we do the same thing and learn about Java and other fun stuff," he said.

Tison Collings, a seventh grader from Butler Middle School, came to the lesson at Jordan because he and his friends wanted to learn about programming.

"We thought it would be cool," he said.

Tison said he likes programming because it is complicated and it is something he would like to pursue as a hobby.

"It' not as hard as I was thinking," he said.

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