A Graceful Summer

I (Andrew Black) have spent a large part of the summer teaching an introductory programming course to a small-ish group of post-bacc students. This was part of PSU’s “New Beginnings” program, which is designed to prepare students who have a bachelor’s degree in some other subject (history, accounting, chemistry, soil science, music …) to enter into our MS program. New Beginnings is intended to be very intensive: students spend 16 hours a week in the classroom, split between two subjects (discrete math and programming, in the case of this summer), plus another 8 hours in labs, plus homework.

My goal for the summer was to lead the students to roughly to the point that an undergraduate would reach after our three-course introductory programming sequence. This turned out to be a stretch goal for those who had never programmed before, but quite reasonable for those students who had a little background.

I never cease to be amazed at the variety of learning styles, even in a cohort of just 11 students. Some are happy to experiment, while others would have really benefited from a Graceful Data Structures book for the latter part of the course. We used Kalicharan’s excellent “Data Structures in C”, and my original plan was to just re-write the programs in Grace. That didn’t actually work out, because a C-based text has to emphasize things that are irrelevant in Grace, and a Grace text will need to talk about stuff that is irrelevant in C — primarily object structure. Still, the basic programs are parallel; I invite you to take a look at binary trees.

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