Coding & programming are becoming the cornerstone of society. More and more schools, universities and educational institutions are integrating teaching programs that involve coding. Despite the immense growth we see in coding curriculums, coding can be one of the most difficult things to teach. In this article, we’ve come up with seven timeless tactics that improve coding education no matter the language or skill level of the coders.
Start with native libraries and functions
Popular modern programming languages have both community and professional support from developers and companies. One of the common ways that people support a language is providing libraries where users can install outside the native libraries. When students work on their assignments or projects, they may be tempted to rely on those libraries for convenience.
Exposing students to those third-party libraries can be a good practice in the later phase of teaching. However, in the initial teaching stage, if teachers let students use external libraries, students may skip and forget fundamentals for quick solutions. Also, making students develop their own simple library can be a good learning process.
Draw logical flow
Programming languages follow sequential logical flow. When you first teach looping, recursion, design patterns, and algorithms, it can be challenging for students to follow the logic by listening to verbal explanations. A picture tells a thousand words. Before explaining concepts and running through sample codes, visualize a flow. There are many useful online tools such as draw.io that allows people to draw diagrams and charts for free. If you can prepare digital boards, it also can be effective since students will be able to see and follow while you are drawing. It can be time-consuming to prepare these extra materials but this will eventually save everyone’s time.
Use the right communication tool
These days, many people use video conferencing tools such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, and others. As the demand increased, companies kept improving their product to attract more users. If you are also planning to teach in a virtual environment, using this type of communication tool will be a must. Many schools also use a video meeting tool to interact with students. Most of the popular tools provide essential features like screen sharing and messaging.
Encourage students to see many errors while learning
Before preparing a class, we need to understand that learning coding is hard and it is not for everyone. As students learn coding, naturally, they will face many errors. If students are new to a programming language, they may interpret seeing an error as failure. What we want to stress here is that while learning, experiencing different types of errors can help students to understand the fundamentals of a programming language and fast-detect the cause of it when they face the same error next time. This learning cycle cultures their debugging skills, which is an important element for a good programmer. Even when they finish a course and become a developer, facing errors will be unavoidable. Here, debugging skills will greatly help. More they see errors, the more they learn.
Use Online IDEs to improve education
When you teach a programming language, you and your students will want to focus on the language. When you have 10 students, for example, and want to teach Python, setting up required environments in each of their computers can be a big challenge. It is not just about preparing required environments, but also ensuring that all computers have the same version for each library across all students’ computers. In addition to these, other preparation steps such as booting and updating computers and having the same OS version and IDE will take a long time to finish.
These time-consuming tasks can be replaced by using online IDEs like Codeanywhere. We provide containerized environments that have your programming language and libraries installed. Using your container, your students can start learning programming without worrying about setting up a complicated environment. Our containerized IDE lets students learn a programming language in the same environment.
Set up code repository
One best place to store your full sample code and review your students’ codes will be a code repository like GitHub. You can use a Codeanywhere container and prepare a git environment. You can teach how to run basic git commands as part of your course. Make sure that students submit their code by the end of each day to your repository. This will prevent them from losing all their work and help them to acquire new knowledge on source control.
Write readable and easy-to-follow code
When you prepare sample code in any language, you will want to write readable and easy-to-follow code. If there are redundant and misleading codes, this can make your students experience difficulty in following your code. To give you an idea of readable code, here are three simple tips in Python. Although the examples are Python-specific, the principles should apply to other languages.
One statement per line
When you write code, avoid writing two or more statements per line. In Python, it allows writing multiple statements in a single line, but this reduces readability. The below are bad examples.
if x == 5: print("five") if <complicated condition 1> and <complicated condition 2>: # your logic
The example uses two or more statements per line. Instead of this, use a new line for each statement.
if x == 5: print("five") Cond1 = <complicated condition 1> Cond2 = <complicated condition 2> if cond1 and cond2: # your logic
Use positional arguments with clear function design
When you use positional arguments for a function, they become mandatory and don’t have default values. A function with positional arguments holds the simplest function form and can increase readability with the right design. For example, imagine that you have the function as below:
def send(message, recipient): # your logic
This is easy to remember since the function name and arguments follow a logical order - send a message to a recipient.
Use explicit style
Python allows some syntax that can be hard to understand quickly. You can use * for args or ** for kwargs. These magic variables might be convenient to a writer, but to a reader, it is not straightforward since we cannot know what will be passed over inside the variables. Try not to use these variables in your sample code.
We discussed the five ways of making teaching code easier. To efficiently teach coding, you need to consider these points and prepare accordingly. Although we listed five different ways, they all rely on technology for effective teaching. Among all, the most critical part is providing a reliable coding environment and, for that, Codeanywhere is the best option. With its containerization service, you can share the same dev environment with students and other teachers. This will dramatically reduce the initial setup process and let students dive into coding right away. To find out more, sign up for free today.