How NOT to Teach Recursion

We all know how to teach recursion. We’ve done it for decades. We pick some honored, time-tested examples—Fibonacci numbers and factorial being leading candidates—and use them to teach the general idea. They’re so canonical they come directly from the gods: you can find these in books by people like Niklaus Wirth.

But I’m here to tell you they got it wrong, and everyone’s been getting it wrong ever since. Students come away underwhelmed and baffled, and go on to become the next generation of teachers who repeat this process. However, we need not repeat this cycle; we have much better methods.

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