[R] A comment about R

Gabor Grothendieck ggrothendieck at gmail.com
Thu Jan 5 15:38:39 CET 2006

On 1/5/06, Liaw, Andy <andy_liaw at merck.com> wrote:
> From: Patrick Burns
> >
> > John Maindonald wrote:
> >
> > > ...
> > >
> > >(4) When should students start learning R?
> > >
> > >[Students should get their first exposure to a high-level
> > programming
> > >language, in the style of R then Python or Octave, at age 11-14.
> > >There are now good alternatives to the former use of Fortran or
> > >Pascal, languages which have for good reason dropped out of favour
> > >for learning experience. They should start on R while their
> > minds are
> > >still malleable, and long before they need it for serious
> > research use.]
> > >
> > >
> >
> > I think 11-14 years old might better be halved.  Kids are
> > playing very complicated video games barely after they
> > learn to walk.
> My kids (7- and 5-year old) barely get an hour on video games a week, and I
> can see that they lag behind their peers at the games (though I don't feel
> sorry for that).  I hope I won't be acused of `endangering welfare of
> children'...
> > R is a quite reasonable programming language for children.
> > You don't need to worry about low-level issues, and it is
> > easy to produce graphics with it.
> Any suggestion on how to go about getting kids that young on (R)
> programming?

I have introduced a number of computer software tools to my nephew
who is a teenager.  I think the key item is motivation and attention
span -- which is short.  They will want to get results fast and want
results to be of interest to them.

I have taught him elements of HTML, javascript and R.  In retrospect,
the most successful was HTML and to a lesser extent javascript.
When I asked him which of the three he wanted to learn more of
after not having done it for a while it was javascript.

The advantage of starting with HTML is that its relatively simple and within
one or two sessions he/she will be able to be putting together
web pages for themelves so its obviously useful and they can
be creative almost immediately. Also that leads naturally to javascript
and one can download lots of fancy mouse tails and other
motivating javascript snippets.

Previously we did it in person but now we are in different cities and
do it via instant messaging.  We started with javascript (which of the
three was the one he favored to get back into) again but
found that it was difficult to communicate javascript over instant
messaging so we tried R instead.

Because R is interactive one can easily discuss a line at a time and
include it right in the instant messaging dialogue so in that mode
I found R was possible to communicate whereas javascript difficult.  There
are some nice graphics demos in R which are motivating although
I think the mouse javascript tails are still more appealing to someone
that age.

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