Thursday, June 19, 2003

Using Test Driven Development for Teaching

"One of the differences I've seen between really smart beginners and average beginners is that really smart beginners teach themselves by writing little tests. Teaching them to capture that knowledge in running test code is a great idea.

It's a learning curve for everyone not coming from an XP background, and the classroom (especially in a five-days-straight course) isn't the real world, but once they get a feel for it, the lights go on. We're not XP evangelists or anything, and in fact, that's more or less the only part of XP that we really use in class (sometimes we do use pair-programming). But we do believe that learning how to think about things is just as important as the actual things you learn. This goes back to what we said earlier about always telling them the "why" and "who cares"--if they really understand or "get" something, then the exercises don't seem arbitrary, but are the natural outcome. I want people to feel that the right way to do things (or at least a good way) is the most natural way, and not an awkward approach. We know we have failed when someone says, "I don't understand the point of this exercise." That makes us cringe, but every time it happens, we learn something new about what we should or shouldn't do to help people learn. "
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