Wow, so many familiar names in my email, I feel I should start making
comments about getting the band back together. Ceilidh, anyone? :-)

On 6 April 2016 at 20:22, Alan Blackwell <> wrote:

> > On 6 Apr 2016, at 07:04, Linda McIver <> wrote:
> >
> > The main thing is that I want to teach them real skills that they can
> continue to lose.
> :-)

This was, sad to say, unintended, but possibly Freudian! :)

> Nice to hear from you Linda! We have been thinking hard about error
> messages in Sonic Pi, which I guess has some similarity to your situation:
> 1) It is a domain specific language; 2) We’re very concerned that students
> should move past errors quickly, rather than becoming demotivated or having
> learning obstructed by irrelevant questions.
> I am amazed how your second point is discounted or devalued by the
programming language community. If we allow students to be put off by their
first interactions with the language, we risk losing the very diversity we
claim to be so concerned about attracting. People will never find out if
they like programming and are good at it if they are chased away by this
kind of perplexing language. I'm glad to find through this thread that
people are thinking about it and making progress, and I wonder how we can
transmit that progress to mainstream systems?

> Our main approach has been to observe, based on lots of practical
> classroom usage, what kinds of error situation frequently arise out of the
> things students try to do, and then intercept and replace the standard
> (Ruby) compiler message with a piece of domain-specific advice. There have
> also been some cases where we were able to make particular kinds of error
> impossible, by preprocessing the student’s text before compiling to
> effectively provide more natural point-replacements for Ruby syntax.
> For errors that drop through these, students still get the standard Ruby
> errors, which may not be very useful (though of course we provided the best
> support we could to try and direct students to a likely location of the
> problem in their source code). However, the cases that we did manage to
> trap probably accounted for 80 or 90% of the typical student problems, so
> there are probably some easy wins.
I think that low hanging fruit would be enough to get us through, do you
have any studies on the impact of your changes?

Thanks all for such an interesting discussion. I'm unlikely to have the
resources to research the area myself, so I'm very keen to learn from
others who are systematically exploring such an important field, so that we
can implement something to make life easier for our year 10s.


Exploring Life, Parenting and Social Justice:
Computational Science Education:

Dr Linda McIver
Teacher & Freelance Writer
Buy Fair Trade - Change the world one coffee at a time

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