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why learning to design programs matters


Take note, this is about learning to DESIGN programs.  And, this is NOT about the (too) tiny percentage of the population who will become professional computer scientists…  this is about a mindset and resources for ALL students, so PLEASE READ no matter your subject specialty.  Hmmm….

This first link takes you to the preface of a free online text book (1st edition) that makes some fairly bold statements about the importance of learning to design programs and how that should be a required component in any (and every) good education.  I’ve met these authors, taken summer courses from them, and have taught from their materials for nearly 10 years.  Much of what they say has real value — it is just that the strength of their convictions sometimes shows up in their content as a bit pushy or pretentious.  Nevertheless, it should provoke some thought – and THAT is valuable.  Here’s the link to the preface of “How to Design Programs” by Felleisen, Findler, Flatt and Krishnamurthi:


These authors were the recipients of a National Science Foundation grant awarded to assist in the development of a fundamentally different set of materials and software designed to provide better software and instructional materials for teaching beginning programming and computing.  Since it was a federal grant, their results are free to the public.  That is, there is free software.  There are free texts (2 different books that I know of & 1 of them is well into its 2nd edition).  AND, they have stayed engaged in the on-going online discussion groups that support this effort even though the original grant has expired.

The download site for the software is:  http://www.racket-lang.org/

The 2nd edition of the HtDP “text” is online only, but still free (and has been significantly updated to reflect upgraded features in the language software):   http://www.ccs.neu.edu/home/matthias/HtDP2e/

Dr. Stephen Bloch, another computer science professor from Adelphi University (on Long Island, NY) has also made his text 100% available online.  He has worked closely with the original grantees and developed materials that are linked tightly to the same software but are much more oriented to graphics creation, manipulation, and exploration.  This is the text I’ve used for the last 2 years and student have been much more engaged.  His text can be found at:


There’s too much info in all that to absorb in any short duration, but I can answer questions and have become quite convinced that students of all interests and ages can benefit from learning these techniques and from using these free materials to create and/or explore problems not generally suited to other environments.  Enjoy!


PS: The downloadable software is available for Mac, Windows and Linux-based computers.  That makes it compatible with about 99.9% of all desktop & laptop computers.  The texts are either downloadable PDFs or fully-web-accessible (HTML) pages for access from any browser on any internet-connected device.  There are print (hard-copy) versions of the books available too, but why?


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