The August 2009 issue of Python Magazine
The August issue of Python Magazine is out, and the cover issue is one of the most exciting that I have had the privilege to publish. Following up on his popular talk at PyCon 2009, professor of computer science Dr. Bill Punch has written an article for us with his colleague Dr. Richard Enbody about replacing C++ with Python in Michigan State University's introductory programming class.
The difficulty they faced was that the second and subsequent classes in Michigan State's curriculum have continued using the C++ language; only the initial course could change to Python. While non-majors taking the introductory course get to learn Python and leave, the computer science majors have to then start the second course without any specific knowledge of C++. How much, skeptics wondered, would it hurt the Python students to be a full semester behind in their C++ knowledge compared to students who took the “old” C++ version of the introductory course?
The circumstances at Michigan State wound up being perfect for making the change to Python a full-fledged, statistically valid experiment to determine how much student grades would be hurt because of the switch. Read the article for the detailed results, but I can report — with great satisfaction — that the Python students proved themselves the equals of their C++ peers, and also that very exciting and unexpected results ensued among the students whom the study was not looking at: the non-majors, for which this was their only programming course, and the seasoned grad students, who rolled up their sleeves and learned Python in order to be able to TA the course. Again, see the article for all of the details!
What else do we have this month? Articles about how easy concurrency becomes with Stackless Python; about documenting your software projects using the powerful Sphinx documentation system; about creating simple graphs with the industry-strength matplotlib plotting library; a guide to the details of hashing algorithms, and how they relate to the Python dictionary implementation; and, finally, the usual thoughts and ponderings from both myself and from Steve Holden of the Python Software Foundation. Come join us!