A course was designed to teach Top-Down programming to second
level students who had no previous computer experience. The
purposes of the course were a) to enable them to become computer
literate and b) to develop their problem-solving ability. The
course was designed to teach programming in a manner which was
independent of any particular programming language or machine.
This approach was prompted by dissatisfaction with traditional
courses which generally concentrate on the syntax and semantics
of a particular programming language, at the expense of
developing important underlying concepts.
Initially, a review of the history of programming languages was
carried out to identify the essential elements of programming.
This review found that there was general agreement about the
fundamental importance of structure and that it was not
necessary to use all of the control constructs contained in the
available languages (BASIC, COMAL and PASCAL). Both a mini-language; containing just two control structures,
and a diagrammatic representation (structure diagrams) of the
mini-language were then designed. The chosen control structures
were IF/THEN/ELIF/ELSE for selection and a WHILE loop for
iteration. The students were trained to solve problems using
the mini-language and structure diagrams and were supplied with
translation rules to convert their solutions into COMAL.
Translation rules were also drawn up for PASCAL and BASIC.
The course was tested with girls aged 15 and 16 years in a
Dublin secondary school. These trials showed that the method
may be used successfully with students of this age.
A Master's Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Master of Philosophy of Loughborough University.