Having Fun with Python in the Classroom

Using pop-culture references to make potentially boring coding exercises more interesting.

Introduction

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 Python to my freshmen students. 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.

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.

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