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Head First Java appropriate for high school students?

Dirk Schreckmann
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 10, 2001
Posts: 7023
Anybody that wrote or read the book care to comment on whether it might work well as the text for teaching high school students (ages 15 to 17, with strong math skills) programming?
I'm volunteering to teach a small group of youngins, in preparation for the AP test.


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Amy Phillips
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 02, 2003
Posts: 280
I have only read the two sample chapters on o'reillys website but I thought I would spare my opinion anyway
I am a student and we frequently get recommended to buy boks which are not only expensive but that are also so boring that we are never going to read them. I personally would be thrilled to have this book as a course text
1 - its not as expensive as most java books
2 - its actually interesting to read (very important for students)
and finally 3 - if Kathy and Bert are right it will be easier to learn java this way
I think if it covers the topics you will teach then go for it.
Kathy Sierra
Cowgirl and Author
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 10, 2002
Posts: 1572
Thanks Amy!
Yes, *we* think it is appropriate, and a way to really have fun. As the parent of a teenage age daughter (who is actually taking Java next year in high-school), we had a subject-matter expert in 'teenage-ness' as we worked on the book. A lot of the research that went into the learning theory of Head First is about how younger people (and this gets more pronounced the younger they get) have brains wired differently than previous generations, because of the ever-faster-cuts on television and movies (and they keep getting faster) and the MTV culture. This has produced young people who are much more visually attuned, and of course have a lot more *attitude* and less tolerance for things they perceive as boring.
Studies have shown that what people think of as a teenager's "Inability to concentrate" is a misconception. It appears to be that teenagers (at least in the US) are much more resentful of "wasting time" on things which they do not find engaging. They simply choose not to pay attention. Yet put them in front a video game, and they can stay focused all day. Or, in my daughter's case, take a kid who wouldn't read a philosophy book if her life depended on it... but who can't tear herself away from the new "Philosophy of the Matrix" book.
So, our book isn't exactly an MTV approach -- it IS still just a printed book, but it is orders of magnitude more visual than a standard text book, and works hard at getting and keeping their attention.
One of things that has been researched (not by us, we just *apply* the research, we don't conduct it), is that most people over 35 consider pictures to be something that "supports the text"... adding more meaning to the core text.
It is just the opposite as you move into age groups that were born / raised in the Sesame Street / MTV / video game world -- they see text as something that should be there only if needed to "support the pictures"... adding a little more meaning to the core content -- the visuals. It is a wildly different orientation, but one that happens to be better for *everyone* (we can process visual information far more rapidly than words), it's just that younger pepole are more demanding of this visual-priority, where those of us who were raised in a different generation are much more tolerant of traditional text books, because we were brought up in that environment. It's what we always knew.
So, from a learning theory perspective, the Head First format works for most people but is especially geared toward a younger audience. Teenagers were not the target audience, but they certainly fall into that category.
Several colleges and universities are looking at the book for precisely that same reason -- to have something that will keep their incoming freshmen taking "Java as a first OO programming language" from falling asleep.
But... now that I've pointed out the good side, there are some issues that you'll have to evaluate for yourself. It is *not* a conservative book. Although it is FAR more tame than, say, a standard commercial on television, it is *not* a dry, serious text book. Not everyone will feel comfortable with that. And although there is nothing at all 'racy' in the book, it *does* include a few things you wouldn't find in a text book -- a girl in a bathtub, for example (absolutely NOTHING improper is shown in the picture, but still...). As far as language, the worst two things in the book are:
* A thought bubble over a hippo says, "I'm one bad*ss
plant eater" (the asterisk is in the book like that -- I'm not censoring it here
* A guy talking about serialization asking, "So I'm screwed if the person who wrote the class didn't make it serializable?"
And at one point, a woman is saying, "Sometimes he treats me like an Object, but I can do so much more..." but this is in the context of polymorphism, and using an Obect reference to refer to a subclass of some other type... so it is perfectly in context
That's it. Those are the only questionable things in the book. Compared to what a teenager sees every single day on television, or in magazines... nothing to remark about. But compared to a typical academic text book, perhaps a little surprising.
My daughter's class is going to have it, but she is in a pretty progressive school, with a heavy emphasis on visual arts, video production, animation, etc.
Perhaps most importantly, in my opinion, the exercises and activites are FUN but challenging. The biggest projects in the book are:
* A battleship-style game, "Sink a Dot Com"
Kids could have a lot of fun working on this, perhaps in pairs. This is one of the first projects in the book (chapter 5 and 6).
* For the later stages of the book, a networked / multi-user beat box drum machine, using the JavaSound API, where they make a chat client using sockets and threads, but where instead of just "chatting with text", they can actually send their own 16-beat 'drum patterns' to the other participants in the chat room.
* The final project is an RMI-based universal service browser, where each kid can make their own little game (or anything they want that can fit in a JPanel), and on the network, all other kids can load each others games into their "service browser". This is a simplified version of something I used to do in a Jini course, and it brought out the 'kid' in my adult students, as they all worked on surprising and one-upping each other with their 'services'.
Dirk, please write to me directly for any other info or samples.
cheers,
Kathy
Dirk Schreckmann
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 10, 2001
Posts: 7023
Kathy,
I think the book sounds great.
I really appreciate that it doesn't cost $100 (as about all my University text books did) as we're trying to put together a program for students with parents that statistically don't have a lot of money to burn.
I was a bit concerned about trying to use a Deitel book as they're just so damned long-winded (I didn't delete the expletive) and they're expensive.
Now, I'll have to get my hands on one and just give 'er a once over. I'm excited to perhaps finally read the beginner book I'd always wished I'd had.
[ June 05, 2003: Message edited by: Dirk Schreckmann ]
James Chegwidden
Author
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 06, 2002
Posts: 201
Yes, Kathy's new book would be good.
BUT remember it does not teach the contents all geared toward the APCS exam. To me it more geared to SCJP certification.
The Deitel book would not be good. I have used the 3rd and 5th editions- at the college level. Not recommend for high school.
The book we currently use from PH is good but does not fit APCS curriculum
I would use Java Programming: From Problem Analysis to Program Design. Malik Course Tech 2003.
I would go to the College Board web site and see what the new objective are and find a text geared around it.
Kathy's heads up book would be an excellent reference.


Author and Instructor, my book
Thomas Paul
mister krabs
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 05, 2000
Posts: 13974
I am recommending Kathy's book as an optional additional text. It doesn't cover enough material in enough depth to be a true textbook but I think it does make some of the more confusing stuff easier to understand.


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