One of the most important choices that coding teachers are faced with is deciding which programming languages they should use in their classrooms. The programming language that you choose will determine how your students learn and code, as well as what projects they’ll be able to take on and the results they’ll achieve. Plus, not all programming languages are created equal – they all have their own strengths and weaknesses, especially when it comes to being used by students and first-time coders. As such, one must also consider difficulty and choose a language appropriate to a student’s level.
All this can make an already difficult choice even more complex – luckily, this guide will help you to choose the best programming language to use with your class.
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What to Consider When Choosing a Programming Language
There are a number of important considerations to make when choosing a programming language to use with your students. First and foremost, you should think about what your end-goal is – what do you want your students to achieve?
Do you want to focus on their creative expression? Is your class supposed to prepare them for employment or further study in programming? Or are you just aiming to give them a grounding in the basics of coding so that they can enjoy the transferrable skills it offers?
It’s important to choose a programming language that matches these goals. There’s no point in choosing a complex language like Java for young coders who you just want to demonstrate the creative value of coding to. Likewise, older students who you want to teach to code professionally will be severely limited by a simple block-based language like Scratch.
Another important factor is how easy the language is to pick up and use. For younger learners, block-based programming languages are a simple starting point that they’ll be able to start using successfully within a lesson or two. Older students will likely be able to pick up simpler text-based programming languages with ease, but a complex language like C++ can easily end up putting them off coding with its steep learning curve.
You should also consider what the community is like for the programming languages you intend to use. The more active users a programming language has, the more resources you’ll be able to find online to support your lessons. More importantly, popular languages will have far more community support such as discussion forums and video walkthroughs for your students to use when they get stuck.
Finally, think about how each programming language is installed and run. Accessible programming languages that run across platforms or within browsers make for an excellent option since they can be used in multiple classroom contexts as well as by the student at home.
Cost is another factor you should consider here – while many languages claim to be free, some of them rely on tools and extensions that need to be paid for, so make sure to use one that students won’t have to pay extra to practice at home.
What is the Best Programming Language to use with Students?
The answer to this is highly subjective – as we’ve explored above, there are a variety of factors that may make programming languages more or less appealing depending on who you’re teaching and what your objective is. However, there are two standout options that are highly adaptable and lend themselves extremely well as introductory programming languages.
If you need a block-based programming language for younger learners, or even older students with no prior background in coding, then Scratch is a great option to ease them into coding. Alternatively, for older or more determined coding beginners who want to jump straight into a text-based programming language, then Python is one of the best options to go with.
Why You Should Use Scratch as a First Block-Based Programming Language
Scratch is a free, web-based coding platform operated by MIT. It’s designed for children aged 8-16, and utilizes block-based coding that enables coders to create animations, interactive stories, and simple games.
It’s extremely simple to learn and use, with a drag-and-drop code builder that eliminates the need for students to deal with syntax and other technicalities. All students need to do is drag elements into place and let their program run, with no need to look out for misplaced commas, semicolons, or other technicalities as with a text-based language.
The bright and intuitive interface makes Scratch easy to use and understand, and its emphasis on creative expression means that younger learners will have plenty of fun using it. As such, it’s a great way to keep students engaged in coding. What’s more, by creating fun and usable projects, students will stay motivated to keep experimenting and exploring.
Scratch is driven by a huge online community, with over 70 million active users and 82 million projects hosted on its online library. This gives students a vast library of resources to gain inspiration and guidance from for their next project.
Thanks to its simplicity and focus on creativity, Scratch makes for an ideal first programming language for younger learners. It allows them to master the core concepts and fundamentals of coding without having to deal with the complexities, technicalities, and often-frustrating processes of a text-based programming language.
Why You Should Use Python as a First Text-Based Programming Language
While Scratch is ideal for younger coders, older students may feel that they want to take on a more “grown-up” programming language based on actual text rather than simple blocks. The appeal of this is that they’ll be able to take on more varied, more complex projects whilst gaining skills for further study and future employment.
This is where Python comes in. Python is an ideal choice for a first text-based programming language thanks to its streamlined design and ease of use. The way that Python is structured makes it more immediately understandable than other text-based languages like C++ and Java as it more closely resembles actual spoken language, allowing students to engage with it more intuitively as a result.
Python is also built with many of the same principles as block-based coding in mind, structuring code in logical and easily-understandable patterns that make it easy for students to follow.
Unlike other text-based programming languages that may need complex concepts explaining for even the simplest of programs, Python is much easier to simply learn as you go. Students can easily jump straight into simple coding projects with Python without the need for lengthy, boring lectures on syntax and technicalities for each minor step.
As such, Python is great as a learn-as-you-go programming language. Students can naturally learn and master core concepts within Python as they practice it and work on projects, familiarising them with fundamental elements such as loops, variables, statements, functions, data structures, and more.
At the same time, students are free to work on a wide variety of projects. While Python is relatively simple compared to other text-based programming languages, it’s still highly adaptable, and can be used for a range of projects across web, app, and game development.
Python can also encourage good habits in coding that will be helpful when using other programming languages. The main example is indentation – Python encourages users to make proper use of indentation when coding, which is an important habit when coding with other programming languages in order to construct clean, well-structured code.
Overall, Python represents a strong starting point for text-based coding. It’s simple and easy to get to grips with, allowing students to “learn by doing” and master core coding concepts through practical programming exercises. It’s also adaptable enough that students can undertake a wide range of projects with it.
Moreover, it can be an ideal jumping-off point for learning other programming languages. Students can quickly grasp core concepts and skills within Python before moving onto more technically challenging languages such as C++ and Java.
What Other Programming Languages are Good for Teachers?
Scratch and Python are without doubt two of the strongest choices for use as an introductory programming language, but learning to code doesn’t start and end with just one language. For a well-rounded coding education, teachers should try to introduce their students to multiple programming languages once they’ve mastered their first one.
Whether using them as an introductory programming language or as a new challenge once your students have mastered their first language, the following are all great options for programming languages to use in the classroom.
In many ways, Blockly is Google’s answer to Scratch. Like Scratch, Blockly is a block-based programming language built around drag-and-drop editing, a bright and user-friendly UI, and the ability to create fun and colorful projects such as games and animations.
Because of this, Blockly enjoys many of the same benefits as Scratch – it’s great for introducing younger learners to the core principles of coding whilst keeping lessons fun and engaging through creative expression. The main downside is that Blockly has fewer users than Scratch, making resources more limited as a result.
One interesting feature of Blockly is that it’s essentially a composite of various existing programming languages such as Python, Java, Ruby, and more. Coding with Blockly is therefore basically using a mix of code from other languages rewritten in block form – it can therefore be a great way of familiarising students with certain common functions from other languages.
Blockly also has an auto-debugging feature that takes the frustration out of testing programs. The auto-debug runs and tests code, and if there’s an error, it analyzes the code to find it and highlight it for the coder. As such, it can help students to understand the importance of debugging and help them understand mistakes they’ve made without demoralizing or frustrating them.
Ruby is another good option for a first text-based programming language, with clean, easy-to-understand syntax that’s often largely self-explanatory. As such, students can quickly get to grips with it without the need for lengthy introductions or constant hand-holding.
Ruby is therefore a great programming language for when you want your class to dive into practical exercises as soon as possible. Like Python, it can encourage a “learn by doing” approach where students pick up coding concepts organically as they take on new projects.
Despite its simplicity, Ruby isn’t limited to less complex projects. It’s also capable of supporting advanced programming paradigms such as procedural and functional coding, meaning there’s scope to explore advanced topics and exercises with your class once they’ve mastered the basics.
Tip: Use Online Resources for Teaching Programming Languages
It’s important to remember that while choosing a programming language to teach is an important decision, it’s not the be-all and end-all of your lesson planning. You also need to think carefully about how you teach the language. It’s vital that no matter which language you choose, you effectively convey the core principles and skills that your class will need to become proficient coders.
Planning lessons to cover all of this may be difficult, but luckily, there are plenty of online resources that can help, with online libraries full of lesson ideas, projects, and assessments you can use. You could even look to platforms such as Zenva Schools which offer entire coding courses for you to use in the classroom to teach a variety of programming languages and skills.
Zenva Schools offers a wide range of lessons and courses for use in the classroom, including a variety of practical projects with an emphasis on game development – perfect for keeping students engaged with fun, interesting coding projects. The platform also features on-demand video guides and browser-based coding, enabling students to easily brush up on their coding skills whether they’re in the classroom or at home. In addition to all these, courses on Zenva Schools are made with industry professionals, ensuring you have coding experts providing the teaching.
Of course, there are more resources out there to find what suits your needs best. However, finding online resources is sure to help make the process of teaching programming that much smoother.
Choosing a programming language to use with your students is a vital decision that can heavily impact the way they learn to code, so it’s important to carefully consider all of your options. When choosing a programming language, always consider what you want to get out of it: what concepts you want to teach, what sort of projects you want your class to work on, and how you plan for them to advance once they master their first language.
The programming languages covered in this guide should provide you with plenty of strong options for use in your classroom – but be sure to research other options too, as the best programming language isn’t always the same for everyone. In fact, the best programming language is always the one that suits your needs best, and you will certainly find a language out there for those purposes.
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