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Having Fun With Python in the Classroom

Using pop-culture references to make potentially boring coding exercises more interesting.
Oct | 14 | 2018

Oct | 14 | 2018


This semester I’m teaching four sections of Introduction to Information Systems: Honors. As is the case with most survey courses, CIS236 covers a great deal of material—and quickly at that. Think breadth, not depth. I joke with some of my friends that it’s easier for me to explain the topics that we don’t discuss over the 13-week semester.

I’m not the only professor teaching CIS236. Through our weekly coordination meetings and via Slack, my two colleagues and I dutifully coordinate with each other. We strive to guarantee a consistent student experience. Put differently, we want to ensure that all students who take the course learn the same things irrespective of who’s running any particular section.

Finding a Way to Personalize a Standard Class

Professors shouldn’t be afraid to bring a bit of themselves into the classroom.

Despite this ostensible limitation, I find that I can still show what I like to think is my unique personality in the classroom—specifically, my fondness obsession for my favorite TV show.

Cue the following scene—one of my five faves from the series:

As I write this post, I am in the course of teaching the rudiments of Python to 150 freshmen. I’m no expert at it, but I don’t totally suck. Last December, I decided to spend a few weeks noodling with it. I plowed through Head First Python: A Brain-Friendly Guide (affiliate link) and I’m glad that I did.

This week, I wrote the following Breaking Bad-inspired program and committed it on a Github repository. Sure, it’s simple, but it demonstrates a few essential programming concepts: if/then statements and while loops.

Here’s the code:

Here it is in action on IDLE, a popular integrated development environment (IDE) for Python on the Mac:

If you want to run the little program yourself, have at it.

I suppose that, by taking this approach, I run the risk of spoiling the show for the students who haven’t seen this particular scene. Still, I can’t resist. Bringing my personality into the classroom is a big part of my teaching philosophy.

Beyond that, I firmly believe that my subjects (read: technology, coding, data, analytics, and information systems) need not be boring. On the contrary, they are downright fascinating.1

Simon Says: Professors benefit from letting their personalities shine in the classroom.

Brass tacks: There’s always an opportunity to make classes fun and interactive—even with a potentially mundane subject such as data governance. If I’ve learned anything in my teaching career, it’s that a little personality from the professor goes a long way with most students.


What say you?


  1. For more fun with Python, check out what this coder did to screw with a scammer.


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  1. Conrad

    I think there are a lot of ways make learning effective but the most effective way is to make it fun. Learner will sometimes find the topic too boring that their brain might never grasp it or it will just be forgotten right away. So to make the learning stick to the mind of the learner is to make it fun and memorable. Appealing to the emotion makes it memorable. If the teacher could find a way to make this strategy works, then the learner will really learn a lot.

  2. Phil Simon

    Thanks, Conrad. That’s the goal.


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