Best ways to teach a beginner to program?


Question

Original Question

I am currently engaged in teaching my brother to program. He is a total beginner, but very smart. (And he actually wants to learn). I've noticed that some of our sessions have gotten bogged down in minor details, and I don't feel I've been very organized. (But the answers to this post have helped a lot.)

What can I do better to teach him effectively? Is there a logical order that I can use to run through concept by concept? Are there complexities I should avoid till later?

The language we are working with is Python, but advice in any language is welcome.


How to Help

If you have good ones please add the following in your answer:

  • Beginner Exercises and Project Ideas
  • Resources for teaching beginners
  • Screencasts / blog posts / free e-books
  • Print books that are good for beginners

Please describe the resource with a link to it so I can take a look. I want everyone to know that I have definitely been using some of these ideas. Your submissions will be aggregated in this post.


Online Resources for teaching beginners:


Recommended Print Books for teaching beginners

1
324
11/24/2011 11:03:40 AM

I've had to work with several beginner (never wrote a line of code) programmers, and I'll be doing an after school workshop with high school students this fall. This is the closest thing I've got to documentation. It's still a work in progress, but I hope it helps.

1) FizzBuzz. Start with command line programs. You can write some fun games, or tools, very quickly, and you learn all of the language features very quickly without having to learn the GUI tools first. These early apps should be simple enough that you won't need to use any real debugging tools to make them work.

If nothing else things like FizzBuzz are good projects. Your first few apps should not have to deal with DBs, file system, configuration, ect. These are concepts which just confuse most people, and when you're just learning the syntax and basic framework features you really don't need more complexity.

Some projects:

  • Hello World!
  • Take the year of my birth, and calculate my age (just (now - then) no month corrections). (simple math, input, output)
  • Ask for a direction(Up, down, left, right), then tell the user their fate (fall in a hole, find a cake, ect). (Boolean logic)
  • FizzBuzz, but count once every second. (Loops, timers, and more logic)
  • Depending on their age some really like an app which calls the users a random insult at some interval. (Loops, arrays, timers, and random if you make the interval random)

2) Simple Project Once they have a good grasp of language features, you can start a project(simple, fun games work good.). You should try to have the first project be able to be completed within 6-12 hours. Don't spend time to architect it early. Let them design it even if it sucks. If it falls apart, talk about what happened and why it failed, then pick another topic and start again.

This is where you start introducing the debugging capabilities of your tools. Even if you can see the problem by reading the code you should teach them how to use the tools, and then show them how you could see it. That serves the dual purpose of teaching the debugging tools and teaching how to ID errors without tools.

Once, or if, the project gets functional you can use it to introduce refactoring tools. Its good if you can then expand the project with some simple features which you never planned for. This usually means refactoring and significant debugging, since very few people write even half decent code their first time.

Some projects:

  • Hangman game
  • Experimenting with robotics(Vex and Mindstorms are options)

3) Real Project Start a real project which may take some time. Use proper source control, and make a point to have a schedule. Run this project like a real project, if nothing else its good experience having to deal with the tools.

Obviously you need to adjust this for each person. The most important thing I've found is to make even the first simple apps apply to what the person is interested in.

Some projects:

  • Tetris
  • Text file based blog engine
  • More advanced robotics work
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4/7/2009 1:34:20 PM

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