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Educational Software Thread, A-Level Computing - which programming language do you use / any support issues? in Technical; Our school is considering to run the AQA A-Level Computing course - I'd appreciate any comments regarding which of the ...
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    A-Level Computing - which programming language do you use / any support issues?

    Our school is considering to run the AQA A-Level Computing course - I'd appreciate any comments regarding which of the list below is used (or planned to be used) by schools for this course and any support headaches in installation/upgrading/students using software etc.

    The choices are: Pascal, VB.6, Python, VB.Net or Java.

    Many thanks!

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    NikChillin's Avatar
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    We use VB 6 which runs from a virtual machine with the network port disabled. The students have a mapped drive to their user area which is set up from a script on log on. The virtual machine re-images on boot up back to default settings in case someone breaks it.

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    drdos256 (20th January 2012)

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    The school I worked at did do Pascal, using Borland Delphi, problems with that is Delphi didn't play very well with muliple users on one machine. The school then moved to VB.NET, very easy to set up using Visual Basic Express 2010. Only issue if you have an .exe policy you will need to put an exception into the default save/build path otherwise the program won't run.

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    Ah, A-Level Computing .. that brings back memories .. I used Pascal for my own *coughs* years ago .. but I always remember it being a little funny with the machines and the techs back then at college complained about it .. lol ..

    Not very helpful I know, but you know, I've been through the therapy for it now, so I can talk about it again *twitch twitch*

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    Personally I like Python. Its free and easy to install (pretty sure its got MSIs). The other languages need compiling (not so sure about vb.net though). Python doesn't, so you just edit and run. This is so much less frustrating than other languages. I use a .bat file to test as the console window disappears too quick. Mine just runs the app and then pauses. Combining Python with PyQT4 lets you produce good quality GUI apps that run on any common platform - mac, pc, linux, raspberry pi. You can also use cx_freeze to produce a distributable package. There are also lots of code examples around, and a few beginners guides as well. You can interface it with an arduino board using firmata, or do serial port stuff with PySerial. There are many other libraries as well. One thing to steer clear of is the 64 bit version, it doesn't always play nice with some libraries like pyserial. the 32 bit version works fine on 64bit windows though. You can write the code in notepad, but I prefer notepad++ (also free) as it does syntax highlighting. Another editor is IDLE which might work well.

    I don't know how all this applies to teaching aqa computing though as we don't do that.

    I would avoid pascal, its (supposed to be) good for teaching programming, but the language doesn't easily lend itself to moving on to any 'proper' languages.

    VB is good for windows, but not cross platform. that might be an issue if students have macs or unix at home - they may need to work in school on homework.

    Java might be good if the students are interested in developing apps for phones. However, the development environments can be slow and quite resource intensive. Netbeans was good last time i used it.
    Last edited by Chris_Cook; 19th January 2012 at 05:19 PM.

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    drdos256 (20th January 2012)

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    We use Python 3.2

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    Quote Originally Posted by kernewek-sam View Post
    We use Python 3.2
    Eeek! 2.7 here (along with some Small Basic in lower years)

    Matt

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    @Chris_Cook - Thank you for taking the time to write a very detailed reply - this information is exactly what I'm looking for.

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    @drdos256 have you spoken to schools on the Computing At Schools group as they will also have a raft of information for you? If you could summarise their responses back here it would also bee good.

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    garethedmondson (28th January 2012)

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    we are considering python as well, seems to be a popular choice in the open source community so learning it makes sense to those wanting to contribute to projects such as gimp, scribus and open office, as well as being easy to administer for us, and not hugely difficult to transfer to for our teachers who already have some languages.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GrumbleDook View Post
    @drdos256 have you spoken to schools on the Computing At Schools group as they will also have a raft of information for you? If you could summarise their responses back here it would also bee good.
    Good idea - will see what I can find out...

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    Pascal and VB6 are probably a bit long in the tooth - the others are more usefully CVable. Not that I am averse to using an less fashionable language if it is a good teaching language, but IMO neither of these are "better" there than Python.

    TBH, I find the VB IDE too "helpful" to be able to teach anything, it does too much of the underlying nuts and bolts. OTOH, it's easy to make a GUI and draw stuff - though that implies significantly more programmer skill.

    Java has many advantages, but a rather steep learning curve and can be hard to get off the ground.

    Python would be my choice as it is clean, free (students can easily get it for a range of devices regardless of what they have at home), and actually fairly well used outside academia.

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    drdos256 (23rd January 2012)

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    There is a thread on the CAS group (see GrumbleDook's post above) for those interested in the detailed discussion – plenty of helpful opinions from teachers and IT pros. Wiki’s are also being developed that may help :-
    A-level Computing/AQA/Python - Wikibooks, open books for an open world
    A-level Computing/AQA/Java - Wikibooks, open books for an open world
    A-level Computing/AQA/VB - Wikibooks, open books for an open world
    http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/A-level...ing/AQA/Pascal (no notes yet)
    Python & VB.Net are being looked at here for the course. Python is very popular but you need to be clear on which version to use. Python is free and is cross-platform and "it is the scripting language used by the animation tools in Blender (3D design package)". VB.NET is also popular, but there was a warning about limitations with students who have Mac's at home. Pascal is "still considered good for programming structure / concepts" and Java is "likely to be used by students if they go on to higher education or into industry" & "one of the most popular languages on the web". VB.6 is "a bit old".... So the list is narrowed down for us - next step download, install and see if there are any security worries! Thanks everyone!

  18. 2 Thanks to drdos256:

    garethedmondson (28th January 2012), GrumbleDook (29th January 2012)

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    I'll add to what @GrumbleDook and @drdos256 have already said - the CAS group is an ideal place to find information - although beware I get the feeling sometimes that they are fed up of answering the same question ('What language to study at alevel?'). It seems to be asked on a weekly basis.

    Once you join it may be a good idea to search the Google Archive of the mailing list posts. Plenty of information there. As @drdos256 points out the Wiki is an excellent area for resources.

    Gareth

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    Quote Originally Posted by drdos256 View Post
    There is a thread on the CAS group
    Some interesting quotes, in the sense that some folk there apparently didn't get the memos with ACADEMIC DISCIPLINE in every other sentence, and I'm pretty sure CAS sent one or two of those.

    I get the feeling sometimes that they are fed up of answering the same question ('What language to study at alevel?'). It seems to be asked on a weekly basis
    Don't they have stickies in their forums in which they can write "It doesn't [bleeping] matter, provided it adequately supports teaching the following concepts:"?

    I wouldn't expect anyone in the real-world to care much about what language some kid learnt a little bit of at school e.g. the apparent reality according to the RS report (one they mostly side-stepped) is that most Unis don't care about Comp Sci A-Levels, they want Maths because it means you have a fighting chance of staying the course.

    I suspect the best answer to which programming language goes something like this: That one over there, because there are lots of ready-made lesson plans and pretty videos for the web2 generation, so you [Teacher struggling with transition from "digital literacy"] won't have to work quite so hard.

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