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  Teaching Java to Kids in School  (Read 4096 times)
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Offline MrNath

Junior Newbie

Go forth and Brew~;-)

« Posted 2003-04-03 02:11:30 »

I am currently completing my education degree. My teaching area wil be computing however the schools in my state are almost 100% MicroSoft VB - to the best of my knowledge. However I would like to use Java as a teaching tool because it is FREE and many of our state schools have little cash. Mainly I would like to team up with some like minded people to create a very very basic text based adventure game sorta like a MUD but running in a DOS box and use it as a teaching tool with a view to extend the game a latter date. If things really get going I would like to share what ever is created with other teachers- if you let your mind wander the possibilites are endless, well almost Wink I really hope I can get this running as I believe it would be a valuable exercise for myself (a newbie) Tongue and other newstarters as well as my future students. If anyone has any suggestions or I have posted this in the wrong area please let me know.
Cheers  Smiley
Offline swpalmer

JGO Coder

Exp: 12 years

Where's the Kaboom?

« Reply #1 - Posted 2003-04-03 14:25:41 »

Back in my high school days I used to write educational software for the local board of education.  It was quite fun and was a much better job than the burger flipping that my friends had to resort to.

I think your idea is great.  You might want to look at some tools such as BlueJ that are geared towards teaching.

I remember one of my early projects was a tool to port a simple text adventure (Miser's House) from commodore 64 to PC, and at the time text adventures from Infocom (Zork) were quite popular.  Writing that style of game is a great beginning to programming.

I remember how my coworker and I had decided to enhance the parser in our adventure game port, inspired by the fancy parser in Zork.  No more restrictions to simple verb noun pairs.
User: "pick up the key"
Game: "I don't understand"
User: "take key"
Game: "I don't understand"
User: "Get key"
Game: "You take the house key from under the mat..."

As you say the possibilities to enhance the game are endless.. add still graphics for locations.. make a point and click map interface... interactive 3D map... sound effects...  non-player characters with AI.  (Theif in Zork comes to mind again - very simple but added a dimension to the game.)

And I agree that Java is the way to go... as it is both free and accesible.  Students will be able to try things on their computer at home, if it is PC or Mac.

Offline rgeimer

Senior Newbie

« Reply #2 - Posted 2003-04-03 15:34:05 »
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Offline princec

« JGO Spiffy Duke »

Medals: 556
Projects: 3
Exp: 16 years

Eh? Who? What? ... Me?

« Reply #3 - Posted 2003-04-03 17:05:16 »

Eeerg, I'm not sure learning Java at school will be a particularly easy task. BASIC is, well basically, better. It was designed originally for just the task: getting people to make the computer do things for the first time.

If you were to teach BASIC as the core curriculum and Java after classes you'd probably be on to something.

Cas Smiley

Offline jbanes

JGO Coder

Projects: 1

"Java Games? Incredible! Mr. Incredible, that is!"

« Reply #4 - Posted 2003-04-03 17:11:34 »

That's only true if you're talking *real* BASIC tho. Visual Basic has a way of confusing the bejebies out of anyone who uses it. A good way to screw up a programmer for life is to start them on VB.

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Offline swpalmer

JGO Coder

Exp: 12 years

Where's the Kaboom?

« Reply #5 - Posted 2003-04-03 20:53:14 »

Agreed, without question Visual Basic is a bad way to start.  The structure of Java helps.  The fact that Java makes things a bit easier to mess up and is more informative when you do is a big help too.

Offline MrNath

Junior Newbie

Go forth and Brew~;-)

« Reply #6 - Posted 2003-04-04 02:04:23 »

Hmm learning Java compaired to Basic may not be as easy but the point is I believe Java teaches kids to think in more abstract ways rather than click and drag buttons etc. For starters Java is a good tool to introduce the idea of OO design if you keep the examples simple. Also if kids then want to go onto a computer major at Univeristy OO design and OO languages are usually taught rather than VB, well VB has made some inroads but it can result in poor code and rather bad objects o yes and you have to buy it from Mr Gates at considerable cost.

Thanks for the feed back  Smiley
Offline mill

Junior Devvie

popcorn freak

« Reply #7 - Posted 2003-04-04 04:30:42 »

java was the first programming language i learnt and it went fine so no i don't think it's too hard.

how old are the kids btw?

Offline blahblahblahh

JGO Coder

Medals: 1

« Reply #8 - Posted 2003-04-04 07:59:11 »

If you're looking at MUD development, Cold seems to be the best thing around (...that's still undergoing serious development...), but I've not looked in a while so YMMV.

OTOH, I'd suggest looking at Nathan Yospe's work - he created a MUD to teach physics to students, using in-MUD games, and at the MDC this year he was talking about the freeform descriptions and freeform interaction of his later MUD ideas (and had a demo - but I can't remember if it was a real one or just a mock-up Wink).

He's a clever guy, and pretty friendly, so I suggest you at least try him. Details of his talk in the MDC press release - should provide enough for you to google search on:

malloc will be first against the wall when the revolution comes...
Offline MrNath

Junior Newbie

Go forth and Brew~;-)

« Reply #9 - Posted 2003-04-07 21:25:21 »

java was the first programming language i learnt and it went fine so no i don't think it's too hard.

how old are the kids btw?

Well I have yet to do my first lot of teaching rounds therefore I am unsure of the age group I will be teaching. However after easter I will be placed in a school which will give me a greater understanding of how things pan out in schools rather than what is perscribed via cirricula- please note I am teaching in Australia therefore things differ from the UK and the USA. But some of the information I have been getting from my lecturers at Uni - who are teachers in secondary schools- indicate that the programmming languages of choice currently are VB, Delphi and Pascal. The reason these languages are in use is mainly because these langauges are what current teachers know themselves. I guess by introducing Java to kids in school hopefully will result in an increase in people developing in the Java langauge o yes and as I keep saying the free nature of the JDK is a major advantage, I don't know many kids who have lots of cash to buy expensive developement environments. Furthermore kids love games, and hopefully programming them, so watching kids learn about Java via writting games can help us all to think in different ways by observing the learning process. Anyway enough of my yakking  Smiley
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Offline sma

Junior Devvie

« Reply #10 - Posted 2003-04-08 06:52:59 »

IMHO, the language choice depends on the age of the kids and on your intention. Shall they lose their fear of computers, shall they get a better understanding of computers, shall they learn something about algorithms, shall they get prepared for a computer science course...?

To me, both Java and VB are not really good for beginners because they burry the important concepts under too much syntax and tools. Easy things should be easy.  Logo is still one of the best choices IMHO for a beginner computer language. Knowing half a dozen words, you can already write impressive graphical programs. Logo is also a Lisp dialect and has quite powerful symbolic processing capabilities. Very useful for a adventures Smiley For older students, I'd even suggest Scheme (another Lisp dialect) as a language probably nobody knows (so same chances for everybody) and which can be used to teach basic algorithms as well as high level functional programming (if you want/must do).

The next best choice might be Ruby, a fine scripting language that combines the best of Perl, Smalltalk and a dozen of other languages. Again strong text processing capabilities, purely OO (in constract to Java) and build-in network stuff. Very useful for adventures or muds. Or you might head for Python (a language not as clean as Ruby and therefore not my favorite) for which there's already a mud available which is called POO.

There's a fine Logo interpreter available for Java. Scheme also runs on Java as does Python. There's also JRuby but I've no idea whether the system is already usable. Of course, there're also native versions of all these languages.

Still, using Java as a base has advantages. You can use Java's libraries and slowly make the transation to a (boring Smiley lower level, Algol-like imperative language with "some acceptance" in the industry.

Regarding text adventures as example: I used to teach Java (and Smalltalk) courses to programmers and for one course, I tried to create a simple text adventure with the class. That was tougher than expected because most of the guys never played them and had difficulties in understanding the OO model of rooms, exits, items etc. I had more success in letting them extend my simple Logo interpreter I prepared for the course...  But I had fun preparing the examples and they had fun to solve the mini puzzle. So after the hard work, it was kind of rewarding.

Anyhow, creating a text adventure or mud in Java would be fun.   I never did the latter and actually and would think that you'd probably need to create a tiny in-game mud language (POO uses a restricted Python here but as Java has no eval, you'd need something own here) which makes the project more difficult and OTOH more interesting (at least for me because computer languages are my hobby Wink

As a last comment, if you need to choose between Java and VB, choose Java but use a good teaching IDE like BlueJ (perhaps also choose not use use Windows as OS and go for Knoppix as an instant Linux distribution as this might help students to learn that Microsoft is just one choice)

.: Truth Until Paradox!
Offline jbanes

JGO Coder

Projects: 1

"Java Games? Incredible! Mr. Incredible, that is!"

« Reply #11 - Posted 2003-04-08 12:30:25 »

I dunno. I had Logo as a kid and I really didn't think of it as programming. As far as I was concerned, it was a fun way of making a turtle mark up my screen. Sure, you could make some pretty pictures, but there was no connection between what I did in Logo and the programs the computer would run (which were very few at the time).

My personal opinion is the best starting language is Basic. REAL Basic, like GW-Basic or one of the free variaties. I'm kind of partial to SmallBASIC ( but maybe that's just because I find it a lot of fun to use on my Palm.  Smiley Barring BASIC, I'd almost say go for assembler. Assembly may be low level, but it's straightforward and is good mental training for computer programmers. Think of it like Geometry for programmers. Smiley Just make sure you use a 32 bit assembler like NASM or you'll really confuse the students.

Here's the best order I think:


Teaches straightforward programming with concepts of input, output, loops, conditions and line by line execution. (You'd be surprised how many people have trouble with the order of instructions.)


Teaches the concepts of functional languages, structured programming, variable passing and memory management.


Takes what has been learned in previous languages and encapsulates it into the OO concept.

Some people might actually find it strange that I put Java last, but I think it's important. Students need to understand languages from the simplest form on up. How many Java teachers have had to tell their class, "Don't worry about the class we're creating right now. We'll get to that later." The students end up having no clue what all this OO stuff is about. Following the progression listed above, you end up taking them through the development of computer science. In this way, you give them a chance to realize many of the concepts that aren't explicitly taught.

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Offline MrNath

Junior Newbie

Go forth and Brew~;-)

« Reply #12 - Posted 2003-04-09 03:55:15 »

Thanks for all the feed back, it really helps. I guess another one of my reasons that I would like to stick to Java is currently this is the language that I am teaching myself after a couple of years break. Because of time constraits I would like to stick to one langauge at the moment however as mentioned teaching OO concepts maybe a little to much at the start for some kids. However this is something I will have to have a think about. Once again thank you for you feed back  Smiley
Offline soupface

Senior Newbie

« Reply #13 - Posted 2003-04-10 14:26:56 »

Visual Basic is used for various reasons, especially for people who have little computer experience. Firstly, it's easy to have alot of functionality with little coding (I can make a coloured window that opens/closes and says "Hello" without any coding!). Secondly, it's very visual - 80% of the work is just dragging objects onto a form and laying them out nicely - so that students don't really have to learn too much code, ever!

That being said, I hate Visual Basic. I used it, personally, for years and then again in secondary school (high school? age 15-16). It's a lousy language for making anything that is not widget/window based or that requires any level of abstraction.

I would think that, for secondary school level students, Java would be better in the long-run (but not in the short). It teaches more than just how to use a specific IDE, but also OO concepts, general coding concepts etc. Students will think more of program design and structure (and less on importing animated GIFs for their buttons). Oh yeah, it's free and multiplatform as well.(Which IDE would you use? You should try something simple, like 'Ready To Program' - which I hate, but it's great for starting out)

It is, however, not a very exciting or easy thing to learn. People motivated to learn will, but those with little computer experience (those who may or may not understand the bold and underline commands in Word) will be frustrated. Visual Basic allows them to be able to see what they make, and run it without much work. Any introduction to Java will be weeks of Console-only applications, which are much less interesting and much more difficult to create and use.

I suppose that what you teach will vary alot on whom you are teaching. I definitely would not try to teach Java to anyone under the age of 12-14, but that's just me.

Offline Frumple

Junior Newbie

« Reply #14 - Posted 2003-04-12 21:26:21 »

I have been working as volunteer for the past two years at a computer kids camp (for ages 12 - 16) where they teach things like VB, web page design, and Java. In the java camp, we try to teach OOP concepts almost right from the start. Frequently, we refer to classes as "cookie-cutters" or "blueprints" that can make object within the program. Eventually, most of the kids get it and then we try coding applets with ball objects bouncing around the screen and also some games like asteroids or pong, etc. I find that the greatest hurdle the kids face when they try making a program is syntax. Almost every minute, there will be one or a few kids wanting help and the teacher and volunteers end up running around fixing spelling, capitalization, and those missing semicolons and brackets. Frequently, we have to fix programs which have 50 or 100+ errors.  Tongue

Because of the complicated syntax, some of the kids end up getting frustrated and stop coding altogether. Realize that some people are just not fit to be programmers, and that there are also few others who show lots of enthusiasm and interest when they code. Be sure to accomodate the needs of each and every budding programmer, so they don't feel lost or not challenged enough.
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