Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

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Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by TheReaperKing » Mon Feb 01, 2016 05:06

I work at a school and since Minetest makes it so easy to make mods and you don't even have to leave the program to see lua coding changes I was wondering, if I teach the kids Lua, do you think it will help them learn other languages such as C++ or Java? Unfortunately I am going to be required to learn Java so I'm hoping Lua can help me with that. I realize of course there is a big difference between scripts and compiled code but Lua seems more like an actual coding language than other scripts I've used in other engines (for example Doom 3 and Cube 2). I'm very interested in your opinions and thank you for any insight! Take care. :)
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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by jp » Mon Feb 01, 2016 10:22

Lua and Java have two different paradigms of programming. I'd choose Python for an introduction to the object-oriented languages.

However Lua is an excellent language to penetrate into the programming world in general. Moreover, associating the fun with lessons is an effective way to learn. Modding for Minetest could be an interesting way to your young students to get involved in coding.
 

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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by Calinou » Mon Feb 01, 2016 17:47

There are two schools with programming: start with low-level (or middle-level) programming, then go higher-level, or start with high-level programming, then go lower-level. The latter seems to be more popular lately, and I would rather advocate for that one.
 

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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by oleastre » Mon Feb 01, 2016 23:15

Development is my daily job, and I started as a kid in the 80's with old fashioned computers and languages (Basic and Logo).
What's important when you teach kids how to program is to make them understand how a computer works, what are the basic things you can do, what are the kind of algorithms that allows you to get more complicated stuff done; whatever the language.
What is important is to let them discover how programming can be fun; not to make them professional programmers ready to code for the industry.
So probably a scripting language is a good candidate because it's easy to modify and to get running. And a such Lua is probably a good starting point and playing with minetest to see the result of their coding can be fun.
Python is another good candidate, as well as javascript; everyone has a text editor and a browser to test their code. And using the canvas element, you can draw stuff on your screen quite easily.
 

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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by benrob0329 » Tue Feb 02, 2016 01:59

Scratch is a good introduction to programming.
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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by rubenwardy » Tue Feb 02, 2016 09:17

Scratch is good for under 14s to make them interested in programming earlier, but shouldn't be used to teach a serious course.
 

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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by benrob0329 » Thu Feb 04, 2016 02:02

If said students are old enough to learn a usefull programming language, then Lua is a godd all around language.

Actually, NetBSD 7.0 introduced Lua kernel scripting, so there's lots of room for various uses.
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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by TheReaperKing » Thu Feb 04, 2016 04:57

Thank you so much everyone who has posted in here, your feedback has been SUPER insightful!!
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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by TheReaperKing » Mon Nov 21, 2016 18:02

Just an update to this I came across a site called Codecombat and one of the languages you can use is Lua. I'm going to have my students use it as an intro to Lua so that they can apply what they learned to their minetest mods :)

Edit - I am debating having them use Javascript or Python as a starter on codecombat to introduce object orientated languages but if we use Lua it would more easily translate over to Minetest, hmm.
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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by Byakuren » Mon Nov 21, 2016 19:21

+ Spoiler
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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by rubenwardy » Mon Nov 21, 2016 20:08

Lua is an okay language, but I'd suggest either Python or C over it depending on age of learnee - simply due to them being used more.
I don't like Python as a language, but it is very simple and allows you to teach statements/selection/iteration/variables etc without distractions.
Definitely not Haskell, unless it's in combination with one of the others. That will definitely put them off

Personally, I would choose these, assuming they're beginner
14 and younger: Scratch (very simple, fun, keeps their interest). Maybe Lua if you use it with Minetest
15 to 17: Python (still lightweight
18+: C and Haskell in combination (builds quite a nice understanding of underlying architecture and algorithms)

Regardless of language: I think you definitely should start without doing OO, to keep things simple
C++ is quite a bad language for beginners - it doesn't have C's simplicity
Java needs knowledge to be used well
 

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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by Wuzzy » Mon Nov 21, 2016 22:27

I think the most important parts are willpower to learn, curiosity, time, access to Internet and computers. If those are given, it may not matter THAT much where you start. In the IT world, being able to learn things by yourself will definitely a huge plus.
To learners I want to say this: You do not need schools or similar institutions. As long you are motivated, have time, have access to Internet and a computer, you have pretty much everything you need to become a good programmer. In the Internet you will readily find many tutorials or references to the most known languages. I have learned pretty much all languages I know only from Internet tutorials.
But I also want to say that programming languages are not everything. There are many other best practices which are (mostly) independent of programming languages, such as using version control, writing useful comments, using design patterns, knowing the important algorithms, understanding algorithmic complexity, avoiding bloat, being able to use a debugger and whatnot. Programming is not just about writing code itself, but also how you organize it. I feel this part of programming is pretty much underestimated by many teachers, but I think this knowledge is important and valuable, especially in the long run.

Now for the languages themselves:

Short story
  • If you're serious about this and want a deeper understanding of programming early, start with Pascal and be prepared to go on with learning other programming languages later
  • Lua gets a “Better than okay” rating by me
  • If you're less serious about this, start with a language which you are most likely to use to solve an actual task, to get results fast. If you feel a particular lanaguage is too hard, try an easier one before.
  • For starting, avoid languages where you have a hard time in even get started, that is, finding documentation, tutorials, introductions, etc. This will only lead to frustration
  • If you're confident with a language, learn about the available tools for programmers (mentioned above)

Long story
Lua
The obvious pro for Lua is that is very easy to learn and can be used to quickly get going and get very quick results. Another upside is that it is interpreted, which means that testing is really fast either.
But for learning programming seriously, Lua is clearly not enough.

The downside of Lua is that it is a bit poorly designed in a few aspects and teaches some bad programming habits which the learner would have later to “un-learn” when continuing with other languages. Also, unlike many other languages, there is no free manual online, only a reference. But if you want to pay the price for a book, go ahead … But I think the reference is already very good; I am not sure if it is enough for complete newbies. Better start with another language with more accessible documentation.

Some of the design flaws in Lua include: Global scope is default, all identifiers are available without declaration, it is not statically typed. Lua is IMO also not really a general purpose language, at least in practice. Partially becaus the standard library is very small. Standalone Lua programs are possible, but rare. Oddly for learners is the lack of switch/case statements, but this is a lesser sin. :-)

Some hints for Lua learners:
  • “local” is your new God. “Accidental” global variables are the source of many errors
  • When you mastered Lua, use Luacheck

Pascal
For people who want to seriously learn something about programming, I would recommend Pascal as the first language, or one of the first languages. This language strikes me as a very nicely-designed language which demonstrates many programming languages in a clean way. AFAIK Pascal was designed exactly for the goal to teach students structured programming. The program structure is very clear in Pascal.
I am not saying that Pascal is the silver bullet, I am just saying it can help a lot to understand concepts you find in pretty much other languages. Thus, I suppose learners will have an easier time in getting started with a LOT of other languages after mastering Pascal.

Other languages
I would recommend against early teaching/learning very abstract or very-high level languages like languages which are heavily object-oriented (Java) or functional programming languages (Haskell, etc.). Although those paradigms all have their place in the world, a newbie might get overwhelmed as this is maybe too much abstraction at once. But there's always the option of trying to learn these after mastering the “easier” languages. But if you're still interested in Java or Haskell anyway, well, go for it! :-)

Here are my comments on languages and how good I think they are suited as a first language.
  • Pascal: Very good. Definite recommendation. (see above)
  • Python: Good for motivated learners. (IMO) well-designed. A surprisingly very sophisticated language with many concepts included. You can get started quickly, but it takes a rather long time to master all its concepts; but after you did, you'll really feel accomplishment
  • Lua: Better than okay. It is lightning-fast to learn and syntactically ultra-simple, but it has its quirks and it is easy to make silly mistakes without noticing. I recommend to learn another language after mastering Lua, to extend your horizont :-)
  • C: Maybe. It has an awful syntax which takes time to getting used to but with C you learn about many low-level and high-level concepts. Pointers are going to be a major hurdle, however. Don't learn C without learning to use a debugger at basically the same time, it will save lots of nerves. :-)
  • Java: Rather not, as object-orientation is an advanced topic not for beginners and is pretty much mandatory in Java. But OK after having mastered a structured and compiled language
  • Haskell: No, but OK to learn later, if you are curious about functional programming
  • C++: Hell no, too complex, but definitely OK to learn much later. Only after you mastered a couple of other compiled languages and you feel confident. Note that knowing C is not a prerequisite to learning C++
  • C# (and .NET): Hell no. Although it has a nice syntax and many useful concepts for beginners, it is de facto too much limited to Microsoft products; using C# programs on non-Windows system is a real pain (I speak from experience). You should at least learn one language which does not restrict you to a particular platform. If you like C#'s syntax, learn Java instead, it is similar, but easily more general-purpose.
  • PHP: Hell no, especially as a first language. This language is poorly designed, will make you dumber and teaches many totally bad habits. Don't be seduced by PHP's siren call for being easy to learn. This is only half-true, as this does not take into account the many hoops, quirks, bugs and outsight design flaws you have to know and work around in order to not totally screw up (and screwing up is easy in PHP). Debugging PHP code is also tricky, which is a no-go for newbies. Don't take this language seriously and avoid it if you can.

Going on
But I think the most important lesson is that no programming language is perfect or really suited for all needs. To seriously get going with programming, learning only one language is clearly not enough. Languages vary greatly in scope and purpose. Understanding the difference between compiled and interpreted is important. Also, learners need to understand there are many different “paradigms” (procedural, functional, object-oriented, etc.). What is important to know that all languages are just abstractions, and not the “real” thing.

But if you seriously want to learn programming, at the end of the day, it might not matter that much with which languages you start first, when you learn a healthy number of programming languages anyway.

On the other hand, if all you want to do is writing some mods for Minetest, then Lua is obviously enough, but you should be definitely aware of its quirks.

Beyond programming
Here are other topics which are very valuable for programmers of all kinds (short excerpt):

  • Debugging
  • Version control system
  • Algorithmic complexity
  • Static code analysis / “linting” (e.g. Luacheck)
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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by MineYoshi » Tue Nov 22, 2016 16:50

Welll... Since they are actually kids, without the same intelligence than an experienced coder that worked over 19 years making an operative system... I would recommend some kinda easy language, actually C++ is famous, but due to it's abstraction, it isn't so good for kids. Lua and phyton are as well a good start in the awesome world of coding, since they're simple and easy to understand.

The best way to learn to code, it's first teach them algorithms (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algorithm) It's kinda stupid teach them to code, without understand this. Try to do simple FlowCharts with simple tasks to solve using a computer. Try to make them think, not only write something that there is in a book.

After learning algorithms, teach them something simple as Lua or Phyton. Maybe after learning one, try to make them learn a more advanced coding language, but not so advanced. And continue teaching them more languages, nobody learns in one day, or in one hour. So give them time. Bit by Bit, is they best way to make they learn. Maybe if you make they learn how to make games with the language, that can be a good motivation. Since every kid likes videogames. Maybe someday they'd learn how to make 3d games! :)
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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by TheReaperKing » Tue Nov 22, 2016 17:15

Wow thank you so much and Wuzzy that was an incredibly insightful writeup! What are the quirks of Lua that you are mentioning that would need to be unlearned? I doubt this year that we'd have much time to do more than learn coding basics like conditions and loops and going back and forth between Javascript and Lua in codecombat wasn't that tough.

I'm very interested in what you were talking about with best practices, do you happen to have any of your webpage resources on hand?

Thanks MineYoshi for the heads up on Algorithms. I have some very basic knowledge of them but it seems it'd really help to expand on it.

Thank you again for taking the time to write out such thorough and insightful responses! I'm definitely no coding expert myself so this is gold. Take care.
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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by Xudo » Tue Nov 22, 2016 17:46

My daily work is related to sql, java and scala. In my part-time job as a teacher I use C#. I've chosen it because MSVS was most convenient one three years ago. For new people it is easier to start comparing to C or C++. Advanced students get comfortable transition to serious production things.
I thought about lua for beginners, but I don't like transition from lua tables to classes, from dynamic typization to static from multiple return values to single typed one, from dynamic array size to fixed. There are a lot of important differences.
I am sceptical even about PHP and JS for beginners.
Comparing to other languages, lua has much less documentation and help in the web. You suddenly can get a problem of compiling native unix library on windows machine.
 

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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by Wuzzy » Tue Nov 22, 2016 18:44

TheReaperKing wrote:Unfortunately I am going to be required to learn Java

(emphasis by me)
TheReaperKing wrote: I'm definitely no coding expert myself so this is gold.


I don't like your attitude. I don't like that you claim to be a “computer-science teacher” yet you seem to lack some basic understanding of programming.
Why bothering teaching something you haven't mastered by yourselves?
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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by rubenwardy » Tue Nov 22, 2016 18:53

Wuzzy wrote:Why bothering teaching something you haven't mastered by yourselves?


My computing teacher at college was mainly a physics teacher. He was the only lecturer with programming experience - he'd done some pascal / BASIC 20 years ago. There were only 4 students doing computing
 

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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by domtron vox » Tue Nov 22, 2016 21:46

I just want to put out that I started programming when I was around 11. I started with Python, moved into javascript with html/css, and did C++ when I got to college. I think I'm a decent "programmer", but my software engineering skills (designing the program architecture) are lacking. However, I think it is due more to the unstructured way I learned programming then the language I started with. Also I still have trouble with pointers and the like which is more the languages fault I think. (Yes I have a very solid understanding of how memory works. Using pointers still confuse me >.<)

I like python in that it is very easy to get into and ramp up to doing complicated things. If you go with python you should checkout the pygame library which I used a lot. It teaches the basics for graphics, but doesn't get into the nitty gritty of renderers.

As for subject matter I started out with text adventures which taught me basic debugging, functions, lots and lots of string manipulation, and got me into the basics of classes. Then I moved onto 2D games and pygame which required more structure and taught the basics for graphics programming. I have yet to get into 3D in any significant way. Right now I'm doing a college engineering project programming an autonomous vehicle in C++. Which is really fun. :D
 

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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by TheReaperKing » Wed Nov 23, 2016 17:20

Computer Science is a general term, it is Computer Science Teacher, not Computer Programming Teacher and that is the name of the certification. It incorporates all aspects of the computer. Most teachers have their students mainly do typing but I have more free range where I get to teach them Game Design, how to build a computer, etc. I might not primarily be a programmer, but I do have a lot of Game Design experience, and programming is one of the facets they could get into. I wasn't aware that I had an attitude, though if I do have it is that I want to give them as much of a heads start on helping them develop their interests as possible.
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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by MineYoshi » Wed Nov 23, 2016 19:28

TheReaperKing wrote:Computer Science is a general term, it is Computer Science Teacher, not Computer Programming Teacher and that is the name of the certification. It incorporates all aspects of the computer. Most teachers have their students mainly do typing but I have more free range where I get to teach them Game Design, how to build a computer, etc. I might not primarily be a programmer, but I do have a lot of Game Design experience, and programming is one of the facets they could get into. I wasn't aware that I had an attitude, though if I do have it is that I want to give them as much of a heads start on helping them develop their interests as possible.

Here mostly teachers from computer sciences when is about Computer it's 99% sure they never used Linux, and actually 100% is Microsoft® Office®. It's something sad :/, and that actually you try to make more is something thatis very good. There should be more teachers like you! :D
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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by rubenwardy » Wed Nov 23, 2016 20:24

there is a difference between computer science, it, and computing

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_science => about algorithms and the theory of computation
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computing => designing and building computer systems [1]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_technology => practical subject about using computers often for business and work

Sounds like you do more computing stuff and game design

[1] - http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/do ... 1&type=pdf
 

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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by TheReaperKing » Wed Nov 23, 2016 23:31

The Computer Science Teaching Certification encompasses all three of those and they were all on the certification test. There are no other computer related Teaching Certifications to be had in Florida so that is what I mean that it is general and encompasses many areas. Here is an example test (much easier than the actual one unfortunately) if you are really interested:
http://www.fl.nesinc.com/PDFs/CompSci_5 ... 040115.pdf

Thanks Mineyoshi! Some of my students are currently using Linux and all of them will be using it soon when I have a chance to format the computers. I want to get them installing software on it too and give them the basic rundown of how things work. It is already so interesting watching them use it and adjust to it vs Windows. I'm always interested in new ideas on what to teach them. I think so far them being able to install computer parts, design in Minetest, do some simple coding, and work in Linux is a pretty great start.
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Re: Opinions Wanted - Lua A Good "Gateway" Language?

by MineYoshi » Thu Nov 24, 2016 16:14

TheReaperKing wrote:The Computer Science Teaching Certification encompasses all three of those and they were all on the certification test. There are no other computer related Teaching Certifications to be had in Florida so that is what I mean that it is general and encompasses many areas. Here is an example test (much easier than the actual one unfortunately) if you are really interested:
http://www.fl.nesinc.com/PDFs/CompSci_5 ... 040115.pdf

Thanks Mineyoshi! Some of my students are currently using Linux and all of them will be using it soon when I have a chance to format the computers. I want to get them installing software on it too and give them the basic rundown of how things work. It is already so interesting watching them use it and adjust to it vs Windows. I'm always interested in new ideas on what to teach them. I think so far them being able to install computer parts, design in Minetest, do some simple coding, and work in Linux is a pretty great start.

1.I've seen those questions... Those are pretty good questions for a teacher...
2.Cool! When you use Linux your way to see anything about computers change a lot, things likely commands, and the terminal actually make you see an O.S more complex, also it makes you know to use Windows® A lot better learning to use "cmd" and everything a lot better, you're introduced to drivers, incompatibility, etc... And instead of saying "Why this doesn't work" makes you know how to fix it!
But actually knowing how to use different distros is more useful, but by now it's better they learn how to do simple stuff as install Ubuntu, even a kid of 10 years can do it. So they don't get confused or do something now, teach them bit by bit so they can understand better, or at the 'rythm' you think it's better.
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