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What Should Be a Student's First Programming Language?

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A screen for programming in Scratch.

Over the years, computer science departments have gradually evolved their choices for their students crucial first programming language.

Credit: Scratch

It's a question that's fascinated educators for decades. When students first begin to learn computer science — which programming language should they start with?

One person who's given it a lot of thought is Mark Guzdial, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan who has also conducted his own research in the fields of computer science education. And two different colleagues had recently suggested it didn't matter which language was taught first to CS students, which got him thinking.

"I have a hypothesis that this belief once was true when the field was younger," Guzdial wrote in a recently-published piece in Communications of the ACM, the house organ of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM). But that was back in the late 1960s when the curricula were first being established — while today, students of all ages and experience levels are learning how to program, and they ultimately have different needs.


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