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How to Think Like a Computer Scientist

Learning with Python


How to Think Like a Computer Scientist
Learning with Python

Allen Downey Jeffrey Elkner Chris Meyers

Green Tea Press
Wellesley, Massachusetts

Copyright c 2002 Allen Downey, Jeffrey Elkner, and Chris Meyers. Edited by Shannon Turlington and Lisa Cutler. Cover design by Rebecca Gimenez. Printing history: April 2002:First edition. August 2008: Second printing. Green Tea Press 1 Grove St. P.O. Box 812901 Wellesley, MA 02482 Permission is granted to copy, distribute, and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with the Invariant Sections being “Foreword,” “Preface,” and “Contributor List,” with noFront-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the appendix entitled “GNU Free Documentation License.” The GNU Free Documentation License is available from or by writing to the Free Software Foundation, Inc., 59 Temple Place, Suite 330, Boston, MA 02111-1307, USA.
A A The original form of this book is L TEX source code. Compiling this L TEXsource has the effect of generating a device-independent representation of a textbook, which can be converted to other formats and printed. A The L TEX source for this book is available from

Publisher’s Cataloging-in-Publication (provided by Quality Books, Inc.) Downey, Allen How to think like a computer scientist : learning with Python / Allen Downey, Jeffrey Elkner, ChrisMeyers. – 1st ed. p. cm. Includes index. ISBN 0-9716775-0-6 LCCN 2002100618 1. Python (Computer program language) I. Elkner, Jeffrey. II. Meyers, Chris. III. Title QA76.73.P98D69 2002 005.13’3 QBI02-200031

By David Beazley As an educator, researcher, and book author, I am delighted to see the completion of this book. Python is a fun and extremely easy-to-use programming language thathas steadily gained in popularity over the last few years. Developed over ten years ago by Guido van Rossum, Python’s simple syntax and overall feel is largely derived from ABC, a teaching language that was developed in the 1980’s. However, Python was also created to solve real problems and it borrows a wide variety of features from programming languages such as C++, Java, Modula-3, and Scheme.Because of this, one of Python’s most remarkable features is its broad appeal to professional software developers, scientists, researchers, artists, and educators. Despite Python’s appeal to many different communities, you may still wonder “why Python?” or “why teach programming with Python?” Answering these questions is no simple task—especially when popular opinion is on the side of moremasochistic alternatives such as C++ and Java. However, I think the most direct answer is that programming in Python is simply a lot of fun and more productive. When I teach computer science courses, I want to cover important concepts in addition to making the material interesting and engaging to students. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for introductory programming courses to focus far too muchattention on mathematical abstraction and for students to become frustrated with annoying problems related to low-level details of syntax, compilation, and the enforcement of seemingly arcane rules. Although such abstraction and formalism is important to professional software engineers and students who plan to continue their study of computer science, taking such an approach in an introductory coursemostly succeeds in making computer science boring. When I teach a course, I don’t want to have a room of uninspired students. I would much rather see them trying to solve interesting problems by exploring different ideas, taking unconventional approaches, breaking the rules, and learning from their mistakes.



In doing so, I don’t want to waste half of the semester trying to sort...
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