Initial Publication Date: September 26, 2017

Using MATLAB in an introduction to programming undergraduate course

Donna Gavin, Computer Science and Software Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Platteville

For most students without any programming experience, taking a required computer programming class to fulfill a requirement for their major may be a tedious task. Students have a difficult time translating an algorithm into a computer language. Many languages, such as C++, have a high-level of syntax, which makes this even more difficult for a first-time programmer to understand, even on a most basic level.

As an undergraduate student, the first language I learned was Fortran. I took the class as a physics major, aspiring to be an astrophysicist. I soon discovered that programming came easier to me than physics, and switched majors. I have a strong calculus background, so programming came very easy to me. For those that aren't strong in math, however, programming can be challenging and difficult to learn.

I teach an introduction to programming class at the University of Wisconsin - Platteville, and we just revised the course to be taught using Python. Python is a script, and is a strongly-typed, dynamically typed language that is relatively easy to learn. Python has turtle graphics that should help students visualize their code. However, it would be great to introduce students to programming using a variety of tools.

I have never used MATLAB, but from what I can see, the syntax is very similar to Python. I hope to learn how to use MATLAB to help my introduction to programming students visualize their code by parsing data sets and plotting points. It would be great if I could integrate current astrophysical data into this project.

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