A while back I blogged (is that a word?) about the difficulty of learning HTML. Today I was working with a different group of learners, and had a different experience.
These folk were also students, but they were in their final year. Their main subject was in Creative Industries, so they were studying design, television, radio, creative writing, and so on. But hidden among all these options was a course in web design. This is where I came in.
Everyone present had generated really quite good prototype web sites. They’d learnt HTML and CSS and (happy day) were not using the likes of DreamWeaver. Frameworks like Skeleton and Bootstrap were in widespread use, and jQuery plugins were popular. This is all good. My job was to get them doing a bit of PHP to give these sites the chance to have some basic dynamic content, hopefully eventually making use of some handy MySQL database or similar.
None of these people had done any programming before, so I was approaching this with quite a lot of nervousness but, you know what, it turned out to be a breeze. The main obstacle was grasping what PHP is all about (“So you have some static content here, and PHP will control the dynamic stuff”); that done, actually coding PHP was a doddle. SQL needed some more explanation but it wasn’t long before most were GROUPing BY like veterans. After just a few hours many have really quite impressive dynamic elements in their really quite impressive sites.
What does this mean? Is PHP the silver bullet when it comes to teaching programming? Probably not, but it’s better than Java! Maybe the creative mind is somehow good for picking up the basics of programming. Maybe the whole visual element of working on a web site provided motivation.
Who knows? Thoughts are welcome!