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Education Programming

Programming Education Making A Comeback In Primary Schools 138

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the every-teenager-should-know-haskell dept.
New submitter kyrsjo (2420192) writes "The Economist has an article on how information technology — the real stuff, not just button-pushing — is making its way back to schools across the world. As the article argues: 'Digital technology is now so ubiquitous that many think a rounded education requires a grounding in this subject just as much as in biology, chemistry or physics.' In today's society, teaching computer science in schools is absolutely necessary, and that means getting a real understanding of computers and how they work. That requires working with algorithms and programming, not just learning which buttons to push in the program that the school happened to use."
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Programming Education Making A Comeback In Primary Schools

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  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:09PM (#46864931) Homepage

    Children are growing up with tablets now. By the time they get to school they will have become so used to simplistic touchscreen interfaces that teachers might find it challenging to turn their minds to the internals of the computers they use. Philip J. Guo's The Two Cultures of Computing [pgbovine.net] essay (posted to Reddit under the amusing title "How Ya Gonna Get 'Em Down on UNIX After They've Seen Spotify?") is obviously the result of clumsy and unprepared teachers, but even better-trained educators might face the same challenge.

    I wonder if teaching CS basics might not be better with pen-and-paper exercises in the beginning, where students are less likely to compare what they are doing to the interfaces they are used to. I loved working with Friedman's The Little Schemer [amazon.com] , which I discovered well into adulthood, that teaches one the Lisp philosophy of recursion without every needing to sit in front of a computer. Perhaps children would like such an approach as well, and then by the time you present them with e.g. an actual command line they've already internalized that kind of thinking.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They have tablets.
      Being able to write and run your code makes it fun.
      The new hello world for the touch enabled is to get some widgets on screen, and write some event handlers that confirm it's working.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        They have tablets.

        Being able to write and run your code makes it fun.

        Forget tablets... give them LEGO Mindstorms and Raspberry Pis!

      • They have tablets.
        Being able to write and run your code makes it fun.

        If the tablets are iPad brand, you're not really allowed to do so until age 18. The last time I checked, only adults, businesses, and postsecondary institutions (that's college, not K-12) could join the iOS Developer Program.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          It's now 13.

        • If the tablets are iPad brand, you're not really allowed to do so until age 18. The last time I checked, only adults, businesses, and postsecondary institutions (that's college, not K-12) could join the iOS Developer Program.

          Most kids have parents or some other adult in their life. My 15 year old daughter uses my developer account. But writing apps in Obj-C for the iPad isn't for beginners. Elementary school kids should start out with something like Scratch, then move on to something like Python or JavaScript, and then learn C++/Java in high school (assuming they are still interested). I coach an after school robotics class for 4th-6th graders. We use Scratch to program Mindstorms and Raspberries and the kids are doing wel

          • Most kids have parents or some other adult in their life.

            Provided the parent lets the child use the parent's computer.

            Elementary school kids should start out with something like Scratch

            "Oh Noes! Scratch project cannot display. Flash player is disabled, missing, or less than version 10.2." Flash Player isn't available for tablets.

            • Provided the parent lets the child use the parent's computer.

              A developer account will work on more than one computer. You just need to give your kid the password.

              • by tepples (727027)
                In order to use Xcode on most PCs, you first need to buy a second $650 computer. The parent is more likely to own a computer other than a Mac and no Mac than to own a Mac.
    • Everyone is missing the point on how to educate a child. Do any of these techniques take into account what the children's brains are ready for at a particular age? You know, things like fine motor skill development, centerline crossing, emotional development, movement. Teaching reading too early can affect math and writing skills. The US is doing this all the wrong way. And don't even get me started on standardized testing.Teaching programming too early is such a bad thing to do to their brains. It's about

      • by tepples (727027)
        You don't necessarily mean that an introduction to programming should be saved for around age 18, do you?
        • Personally, I think it should not be saved for an age but rather for someone who's actually interested.

          • by klik (93694)

            What if they are interested at an early age? My son is 5, and after seeing me messing about with Logo, wanted to know how to play the 'turtle game'. Within a day he was creating repeated structures and can now draw better with logo than he can with pencil and paper ( not that he is bad at that ).

            It helped him develop his maths, reading and rational thinking skills.

            Offer them the opportunity at any age - if they show an interest, support it. if they don't, then show them something else new, and see if it int

            • This. A billion times this.

              Sadly, our school system is not supposed to nurture the interests of our kids. It's supposed to produce uniformly trained average achievers.

      • by rtb61 (674572)

        Programming is complex and requires particular logic thinking which children most certainly are very much not biologically equal. This will drive an even greater intelligence wedge into the class room and this will make life harder to those who already get the rough end of the wedgy.

        Perhaps before schools push down the programming line the might considering creating a different education path within the school with a focus on computer education for those students who are suited for it. Failure to make t

        • by Jmc23 (2353706)
          umm, how old are you? A lot of us grew up with programming in basic, logo, pascal in grade school on apples and commodores.

          None of what you are scared about ever happened. In fact, i don't recall anybody having any problem with logo at all, even the 'jocks'(grade 3 afterall).

        • I think we should be very careful about dummying down curriculum based on preconceptions of what the average child is NOT capable of. A prescriptive approach would be to identify real world industry mathematics and simplify it for 10 year olds.

          My lasting memories of primary school mathematics were

          (a) rote-learning the 12-times table. Why stop at twelve? The metric system had replaced feet and inches in my country before I was born. A useful upgrade would be extending that to 16, so that a generation of stud

          • by sconeu (64226)

            Just a note. For your item a), that's actually necessary (up to 10 at least). You have to be able to mutiply single digits without thinking, or else you can't really do anything involving any sort of multiplication or division.

          • by rtb61 (674572)

            It is not about dummying down anything it is about creating a separate education channel for suitable students so that they can advance their computer learning rather than be held back by the average and below average who are also still entitled to an education. So a computer sciences education stream from primary school onto university.

          • (b) learning angles, areas and volumes with degrees.

            How did you learn areas and volumes in terms of degrees?

            Radians are a far more intuitive concept.

            Radians are more intuitive with respect to some things, but degrees are better for discussing angles. 37 degrees is easier than its equivalent in radians,

            • Radians are more intuitive with respect to some things, but degrees are better for discussing angles. 37 degrees is easier than its equivalent in radians,

              That's just a familiarity bias. There is nothing easier about 37 degrees than 646 milliradians. They're both just numbers.

              • Should I do a 3.14159 from my previous statement?

                • Or you could do an about-face and skip the numbers in idioms altogether.

                  Complaining that old idioms won't work anymore is a stupid reason to keep unnecessarily complex conceptual constructs in use.

                  • Are all uses of degrees computationally complex?

                    • I didn't say computationally complex. Degrees are conceptually complex--their relation to other concepts is non-intuitive. Radians by comparision are conceptually simple. 1 radian is the angle that subtends an arc length equal to the radius. Radians are directly connected to the other properties of a circle in a conceptual manner. Degrees are not.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        When I was a kid, there used to be a magazine called Family Computing that included a section of programs one could type in and they would do things... some made sounds, some were small games, etc. 321 Contact's magazine also had little programs in their magazine. My mom and I used to take turns typing in the programs, fixing our errors, and felt a pretty good sense of accomplishment when they'd finally run. The first thing I coded from scratch was a strobe light because the strobe light room was my favo

      • by loufoque (1400831)

        Sure, let's have a psychologist analyze each child every 6 months to decide what he's most ready to learn at this stage of his emotional development and have a teacher design a customized course just for that child.

        Sounds like an efficient use of resources, and a good way to show the child how society revolves on his every whim.

        • Efficiency is the ratio of useful output to wasted effort. Are you really in a position to evaluate what kind of society that would produce and how their global output would compare to our current system?

          It may sound expensive in comparison to our current education system, but expense is a different issue to efficiency. What kind of society would result from every individual being raised to their own personal maximum potential. I suspect that the productivity of such a society would be higher than our own,

          • by loufoque (1400831)

            Are you really in a position to evaluate what kind of society that would produce and how their global output would compare to our current system?

            Yes.
            It's called studying economy.

            surprised that you feel capable of calculating the trade-off that implies between allocation of resources into education and increased productivity across the board

            I'm personally more surprised that you are seriously considering the possibility that the system you are suggesting is viable. There are so many obvious problems with wan

      • by gordo3000 (785698)

        so you have the one size fits all method to make sure all children are learning exact what they need to at every stage? You should write an extension to the common core.

        Everyone develops different skills at very different paces. I was, even though very active, very slow at developing any physical skills (eye-hand coordination, etc) but years ahead at math. If you think you have the solution to everyone's learning strategy, you are wrong.

    • by oneiros27 (46144)

      Way before I learned any real programming (well, maybe I had a little Basic at that point), I had software that was puzzles with logic gates (you have some number of inputs w/ different patterns on the left wall, connect up the logic gates to make the desired output on the right).

      Today's modern equivalent is SpaceChem. And we've had plenty of games that teach you to break down problems into smaller parts ... The Incredible Machine, Lemmings, etc.

      Maybe it doesn't teach you how to write a faster sort routine.

    • by gweihir (88907)

      Actually, it will matter very little, as most people (85-90% or so) cannot learn to program well, no matter what. Sure, it is nice to give the few that can some pointers early on as to what they may like doing later, but the bright ones will look at salaries, place in corporate hierarchy and social prestige and most will stay away from a CS career as a consequence. The few good ones that remain will have a passion for CS and would have found that without school as well.

      What this may achieve though is to inc

      • by sconeu (64226)

        Universal education in programming, however, may reduce the number of PHBs who say "It's just programming. How hard can it be?"

        • by gweihir (88907)

          Well, yes. If that would come out of it, it would be worthwhile just for that.

    • Children are growing up with tablets now. By the time they get to school they will have become so used to simplistic touchscreen interfaces that teachers might find it challenging to turn their minds to the internals of the computers they use.

      Strange words coming from a human. Unlike most intelligent species who first ponder the questions "Who am I? Who are all of you? Who made this happen?" [the answers, of course, being: "nobody in particular"], human children first go through a "why" phase, followed by a "how" phase.

      No one can make a drill so easy to use that a child will not disassemble it to discover how it works. When exposed to the amazing programs operating upon their "simplistic touchscreen interfaces" some children will ask ask "Oh

    • There is nothing "magical" or even "special" about being able to code.It's usually a very shallow trick based on being able to decompose a problem into smaller (easier) ones, and then putting the solution to the smaller problems together to solve the original problem.

      Children would be much better served by teaching them concentration, a systematic approach to problem-solving, a good command of language (natural language) and teaching them how to solve problems that require a focused effort or even a team

    • Children are growing up with tablets now. By the time they get to school they will have become so used to simplistic touchscreen interfaces that teachers might find it challenging to turn their minds to the internals of the computers they use.

      Isn't that the eternal challenge of teaching computing anyways? We have been churning CS grads who cannot understand the idea of an array of functions to pointers, or understand why assembly language programming require us to move values to registers before carrying ops on them.

      The problem might look different now than before due to the different type of interfaces or gadgets. But the core of the problem remains the same. It is not the nature of interfaces and gadgets, but the nexus where competent teachi

  • by eyepeepackets (33477) on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:22PM (#46864973)

    How about some critical thinking skills to go along with that programming class? They compliment each other and both can have lasting effects on young minds.

  • Very vague. Mentions 10 years olds. Doesn't say any specifics, don't say programming language or what they did.

    Since non-programmer wrote article, sounds like some horseshit "feel good" newspaper column.

    As far as I could tell by reading TFA ...
  • by Calibax (151875) * on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:29PM (#46864995)

    Understanding computers in one thing. Understanding how to program them is something else entirely.

    My 17 month old understands my iPad, sort of, and has done for a few months. She can unlock the device, page through it to find the couple of apps she likes, fire them up and interact with them. On my laptop she knows ho to use the trackpad and left-click on buttons. I have no idea where she will be computer-wise by the time she's in first grade, but one thing seems sure, she will know how to use one.

    But programming is not necessary to understand how to use a computer, no more than being able to repair your car's brakes is necessary to use a car. In some fairly rare circumstances extremely useful, but not something that NEEDS to be learned to be a good driver - mostly it's sufficient to know how to use the brakes.

    By all means, offer programming classes, but don't require people to take them to graduate. Attempting to learn programming if your mind doesn't work the right way (detail oriented, highly logical) would be torture indeed. Understanding how to use them should be sufficient for most people.

    • By all means, offer programming classes, but don't require people to take them to graduate. Attempting to learn programming if your mind doesn't work the right way (detail oriented, highly logical) would be torture indeed. Understanding how to use them should be sufficient for most people.

      The same arguments could be said about physics, chemistry, mathematics, etc.

      • Indeed, those arguments could be applied to those subjects. Your point?

        • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:16PM (#46865137)

          My point is that those subjects, which 99% of people never use again in their adult life, are mandatory. And yet computers, which most of us use daily since there's now microcontrollers everywhere, are still magical boxes for most people.

          If more people understood basic things like binary, base 2 vs base 10, basic CPU processing, memory, bandwidth, trojans vs viruses, we would have a lot less problems with stupid things like "Western Digital sold me a smaller hard drive than advertised" or "I'm going to upload this 30 megabytes, 12 megapixel photo to use as my avatar picture for that forum" or the ever-popular "I entered my account password so I could watch porn".

          Teaching real-world examples would be good, such as "Netflix stopped working, where is the problem coming from? My playback device? My wi-fi router? My ISP modem? My ISP? Netflix?"

          The answer to the last problem is, of course, "your iTunes account didn't have enough funds to renew your Netflix subscription".

          • My point is that those subjects, which 99% of people never use again in their adult life, are mandatory.

            Perhaps they shouldn't be.

            If more people understood basic things like binary, base 2 vs base 10, basic CPU processing, memory, bandwidth, trojans vs viruses, we would have a lot less problems with stupid things like "Western Digital sold me a smaller hard drive than advertised" or "I'm going to upload this 30 megabytes, 12 megapixel photo to use as my avatar picture for that forum" or the ever-popular "I entered my account password so I could watch porn".

            That's only if most people are capable of understanding how to be even decent programmers. I doubt they are, as they don't seem to be capable of understanding math (they can memorize equations and patterns, but that's about it). But for the more basic things you mentioned? Probably.

            • by tepples (727027)
              Are you willing to risk imprisonment over your opinion that they shouldn't be?
              • What? Imprisonment? For the homeschooling thing? My state (I live in the US) is one of the most permissive states when it comes to that.

                • Congratulations. May I ask: How did you happen upon the money to move to such a permissive state? And do you recommend that step for most families with children? What if anything do you recommend for people who happen not to be U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents?
                  • I lived in my state since the beginning. I'm not telling people to move, but if they do plan on moving to another state or country, that's just another factor that should be considered before picking a place to move to. If you can't move, all you can do is try to supplement your child's education by homeschooling them out of school, and putting pressure on the schools to improve as much as possible (which should be done anyway).

                    • all you can do is try to supplement your child's education by homeschooling them out of school, and putting pressure on the schools to improve as much as possible (which should be done anyway).

                      I'm not sure how feasible that is when the public schools have shown a history of having "engendered a negative attitude toward family and parents and would tend to turn their children against Christian values," according to the story "Homeschooling family loses asylum appeal" by Bill Mears [cnn.com].

          • by Calibax (151875) *

            The items you mention are all extremely useful when using a computer and should be taught in schools.

            Speaking generally, programmers need to be proficient users but it is a separate skill that requires a substantially greater amount of energy to acquire.

          • by Xest (935314)

            What? 99% of people never use mathematics in their adult life?

            How do people manage their money? how do people buy things? how do people do DIY? how do people do their tax returns? how do people understand who won the latest election?

            I'm pretty sure that near enough 100% of people use mathematics in their adult life.

            FWIW pretty much all your arguments can also be applied to people who use cars. Do you also advocate that everyone should become a fully qualified auto-mechanic by the time they leave school? Sim

        • It is the status quo that education regulators in the several states have deemed chemistry and physics required subjects in high school. Can you show evidence that this requirement is a poor idea?
          • Besides the fact that all of these courses are just a waste of time, since schools only teach to the test and have students memorize information and patterns? Personally, dropping out and self-educating would have been a better use of my time, or homeschooling.

            • Can you show evidence that this [high school STEM] requirement is a poor idea?

              Besides the fact that all of these courses are just a waste of time, since schools only teach to the test and have students memorize information and patterns?

              Again, lawmakers are going to want you to show evidence that "all of these courses are just a waste of time", that "schools only teach to the test", and that "schools [...] have students memorize information and patterns". Without such evidence, you'll never get the law changed.

              Personally, dropping out and self-educating would have been a better use of my time, or homeschooling.

              In Cuba, El Salvador, Greenland, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, the Republic of Korea, Albania, Andorra, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina

              • Again, lawmakers are going to want you to show evidence that "all of these courses are just a waste of time", that "schools only teach to the test", and that "schools [...] have students memorize information and patterns". Without such evidence, you'll never get the law changed.

                I thought people would be aware of these well-known problems. You need only look at our crappy standardized tests.

                In Cuba, El Salvador, Greenland, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, the Republic of Korea, Albania, Andorra, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, San Marino, Serbia, and Sweden, homeschooling is a crime.

                That's quite a shame. Furthermore, some US states have made it extremely difficult to homeschool your children. A select few are extremely permissive to the point of basically requiring nothing and checking up on nothing, but they're a vast minority.

                • by tepples (727027)

                  I thought people would be aware of these well-known problems.

                  Apparently, education regulators aren't, or current law wouldn't be current law anymore.

              • Is that a complete list of countries where homeschooling is a crime? If so, it's not a very big list.

                For comparison, Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] lists the following counties where alcohol is illegal: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, India (some parts), Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Qatar, United Arab Emirates. Not quite as many, but within a factor of two.

                • by tepples (727027)

                  Is that a complete list of countries where homeschooling is a crime? If so, it's not a very big list.

                  That list is based on a list at Wikipedia and doesn't include countries where it's available only as a hardship exception or otherwise far more tightly regulated than in BiIl_the_Engineer's home state.

    • by narcc (412956) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:46PM (#46865225) Journal

      By all means, offer programming classes, but don't require people to take them to graduate. Attempting to learn programming if your mind doesn't work the right way (detail oriented, highly logical) would be torture indeed. Understanding how to use them should be sufficient for most people.

      Yuck. More "programming requires a special mind" nonsense.

      The cold hard truth is that programming is incredibly easy. Why, it's so easy that children can and do teach themselves. Remember the 80's? You couldn't through a rock without hitting a kid who wrote their own simple games for their micro.

      Yes, anyone without a significant cognitive impairment can learn to write computer programs. That particular skill does not, in any way, make you special and unique. You're going to need to find something else to maintain your fragile ego.

      • by JDG1980 (2438906)

        Yuck. More "programming requires a special mind" nonsense.

        The cold hard truth is that programming is incredibly easy. Why, it's so easy that children can and do teach themselves. Remember the 80's? You couldn't through a rock without hitting a kid who wrote their own simple games for their micro.

        Sure, almost anyone can learn to write simple programs in BASIC or another similar language that is specifically designed for ease of use. This was my introduction to programming, as it was for so many others, a

    • Understanding computers in one thing. Understanding how to program them is something else entirely.

      Thank you. This is one point that so-called technocrats in this site seem to miss routinely.

    • by Thruen (753567)

      My 17 month old can use my iPad,

      FTFY. There is a difference between being able to use something and understanding something. To continue the car analogy you're enjoying, nobody's trying to force people to learn to rebuild their engine, but you shouldn't need to call someone to change a tire.

      Programming or not, they should be required to learn more of computers than they do. Having spent a good amount of my early life showing up to fix minor problems and getting paid a silly amount of money for how easy it is, I can tell you a little edu

  • by King_TJ (85913) on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:38PM (#46865029) Journal

    I know a *lot* of kids in primary through middle school are really into playing Minecraft. Several schools in the area have started experimenting with not only teaching fundamentals of coding using Minecraft, but also using it to teach other subjects like math or physics.

    It reminds me a bit of when I was in school in the 80's, how the LOGO programming language was often used as an intro to programming. You're not going to go out and develop a useful piece of software just from learning how to code in LOGO, just as learning to do custom mods in the world of Minecraft has limited utility elsewhere. But the concepts and basic skills translate.

    • It reminds me a bit of when I was in school in the 80's, how the LOGO programming language was often used as an intro to programming. You're not going to go out and develop a useful piece of software just from learning how to code in LOGO, just as learning to do custom mods in the world of Minecraft has limited utility elsewhere. But the concepts and basic skills translate.

      I wouldn't say that the "concepts and basic skills translate" very well to other things. It's not like learning LOGO is going to teach you good real-world programming techniques. But it will expose you to the basic idea of "programming."

      And that's where some interesting ideas might "translate." Programming, like geometrical proofs, requires a certain kind of formal logical thought in an ordered regimented manner -- which is something rarely taught in other school subjects (at least not before advanced

  • While we're at it, let's teach toddlers to read and write before they learn to speak. The people who write this drivel know more about writing click-bait than they do about developmental psychology.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      More like developmental pseudoscience. As a physicist, the low standards I see in psychology studies are just baffling. Subjective criteria, blatant researcher bias, lack of rigor, etc. all plague psychology, and until that's taken care of, it can't be taken seriously, save for a select few studies.

      You think violent video games cause people to be more aggressive? There's a study for you. You think they don't? There's a study for you, too. The studies may not be high quality, but they exist, and that's what

    • by narcc (412956)

      There was quite a bit of research done in the late 70's early 80's. I'm going to guess you missed it.

  • Nothing for taking the joy out of something like making it mandatory. So in my waning years I'll still be able to work and not compete with those young whippersnappers with their fancy new programming languages.

  • Quick, teach every kid how to build and fix them, they really need that skill!

    What? No, it's not "something completely different". It's exactly the same.

    Kids sure need to know how to deal with new technology. But teaching programming is simply the wrong approach. That's not what most of them will do when it comes to computers. Just like most people living in houses don't build them, most people driving cars don't maintain them and most people don't grow their own food.

    I'd rather have schools teach kids how

    • by klik (93694)

      Quick, lets make sure everyone only has a basic understanding of the world around them! Let's not teach them critical and analytical methods! Lets make sure they only understand things well enough to be happy ignorant consumers!

      Simple programming in childhood teaches some very useful general skills with regards to understanding how processes happen. You don't need teachers or parents to have more knowledge, you just need them to impart a way of thinking that doesn't resolve to :

      1. I do something...
      2. ???
      3.

  • Teaching kids about computers will hit many teachers square in the gut and a lot of bad teachers will surely screw up a lot of kids. Most people, including teachers, do not have a real grasp as to what a computer is or what it can really do. There are severe, emotional, religious and political issues involved in the concept of computers. It is all too easy to get a teacher who is a dry, old, stick, who has been indoctrinated into believing that computers are just fancy adding machines that can
  • Lots of variations to be found on this quote The one I know best starts with something like: 'We live in a society ruled by science and technology, however' and the rest I found on a quote mill: We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces. - Carl Sagan (http://www.dreamthisday.com/quote
  • by steelfood (895457) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @11:20AM (#46868391)

    Discrete math to be precise. People laugh when you tell them a college class taught venn diagrams and truth tables. But those are the fundamentals to programming, the things that, no matter how many languages somebody knows, determine the soundness of the program. Those are the concepts that allow someone to transform a real-world problem into a solution the computer can solve.

    The rest is just syntax.

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