Iconic language teaches kids to program

December 05, 2005

A 22-year-old computer engineering student from the University of New South Wales has devised a simple iconic language that will help teach children the basics of programming.

Thomas Legowo is the brains behind fUNSoftWare, an iconic programming language which he plans to release as a free open source product in February.

Robolab, an iconic language which is widely used in schools and international competitions to program Lego robots, was the starting point for the project.

Thomas and his supervisor Eric Martin established a list of all the features that could be improved, and spent a few months coming up with a new design that would provide kids with an easier tool to learn programming.

"Thomas did a fantastic job," says Eric Martin." fUNSoftWare allows a first approach to programming that is fun, effective and rigorous," he says. "Based on the reaction of potential users, it promises to become popular worldwide."

Thomas believes it is the only graphic programming language to help children learn how to write correct programs and then lead them into standard text-based programming.

"You can use my program to learn Not Quite C, used to program Lego, and then C," Thomas says. "You can use the icons to program originally. "Then you can look at the Not Quite C code automatically produced from your iconic program to see what is happening. "Another important feature is that the program doesn't allow its users to commit illegal steps along the way. This results in a program that is free of syntax errors. fUNSoftWare also has a layout manager that automatically comes up with a great layout of the program at all times. This efficiently teaches kids the importance of good layout, especially for debugging purposes." Professor Paul Compton, head of UNSW's school of Computer Science and Engineering, believes fUNSoftWare will help teachers as well as students.

"Learning programming in school can be a big turn-off as it is very difficult to find programming tasks that are easy enough for school students to manage yet interesting and challenging," he says. "Lego robots and fUNSoftWare are one way around this."
The University of New South Wales this year hosted the national finals of Robocup Junior and will do so again in September 2006. For more information on obtaining a copy of fUNSoftware, see www.computing.unsw.edu.au after January 2006.

Contacts: Thomas Legowo, tlego@cse.unsw.edu.au; 40-147-6065; Professor Paul Compton, 61-29-385-5518; Mary O'Malley, UNSW Media unit, 61-29-385-2873, 043-888-1124.

University of New South Wales

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