Does that sound like an oxymoron? Not as long as we have people who think like this:
The strange history of “Think Python”
(Allen B. Downey)
In January 1999 I was preparing to teach an introductory programming class in Java. I had
taught it three times and I was getting frustrated. The failure rate in the class was too high
and, even for students who succeeded, the overall level of achievement was too low.
One of the problems I saw was the books. They were too big, with too much unnecessary
detail about Java, and not enough high-level guidance about how to program. And they all
suffered from the trap door effect: they would start out easy, proceed gradually, and then
somewhere around Chapter 5 the bottom would fall out. The students would get too much
new material, too fast, and I would spend the rest of the semester picking up the pieces.
Two weeks before the first day of classes, I decided to write my own book. My goals were:
• Keep it short. It is better for students to read 10 pages than not read 50 pages.
• Be careful with vocabulary. I tried to minimize the jargon and define each term at
• Build gradually. To avoid trap doors, I took the most difficult topics and split them
into a series of small steps.
• Focus on programming, not the programming language. I included the minimum
useful subset of Java and left out the rest.
I needed a title, so on a whim I chose How to Think Like a Computer Scientist
Focus on programming, not the programming language. That is it. That may be the magic formula. But I would add a couple more. Start with some really interesting, engaging problems. It is more difficult than it looks. I like how Moran starts out teaching Java in his Stanford Course. “Interesting and Engaging” can be different for different people.
For me, it is a tug of war between insulting the intelligence of my students (by being too basic and boring the good ones) and being too obscure to start with.