The objective is to introduce the concept of a variable to the class.

The objective is to get the class to write a Go program to print strings to the terminal using the two different approaches that Go provides.

Creating this program will require the class to use the text editor (either Atom or LiteIDE) to create and save the source code file and the terminal/command line to run their program.

Why variables now?

Variables are a fundamental concept in computing. Without them it is almost impossible to write a useful computer program. Programmers use variables to record the programs internal state and for user input.

Variables are the mechanism used to store data in a program while it is running.

The computing concepts of selection and repetition both depend on variables. Variables therefore need to be introduced before the concepts of selection and repetition and user input.

Learning outcome

The class should be able to:

  • Start their text editor
  • Create a source code file
  • Save a source code file
  • Build and run their program
  • Understand what a variable in a computer program is
  • Understand that the variable is stored in the computers memory
  • Understand how to declare a variable
  • Understand the naming rules for variables
  • Understand that variables have different types - for numbers and strings initially.
  • Understand how the type restricts the operations that can be carried out on the variable.
  • Understand how to assign a value to a variable
  • Understand how to use a variable
  • Write a simple program that uses variables to store numbers and strings.
  • Understand that the program represents a sequence
  • Understand that the sequence executes in order

Teaching prerequisites

The example program is sufficiently simple that the little or no additional teaching should be required beforehand.

  • Basic keyboard/typing and mouse skills
  • Lessons 1-4 in this series

It may help if the class has been introduced to simple equations in mathematics. For example

x = 1 + 5


10 - x = 7

as this will also introduce the concept of a variable from another subject. Alternatively variables could be introduced in English by asking the pupils which words would complete a sentence. For example

Which word completes this sentence?

  • The colour of a banana is ________.
  • Raspberries are coloured ________.
  • Apples are coloured _______ and ____.

Variables. The programs demonstrate how to declare a variable, assign a value to it and how to use the variable. Variables are stored in the computer’s memory so there is a direct likeness to computer hardware. Sequences. The program demonstrates a sequence of instructions that are executed in order to print the results to the terminal window.

The is a direct link to mathematics/algebra where the concept of a variable or an unknown originates. English comprehension could also be used to introduce the concept.

Where is Everything Kept?

Notes for Slide 2

The computers can remember information in two different places.

In first place is in the computers memory - the RAM. The second place is saved as a file to the hard disk or some other persistent storage medium e.g. SSD or Flash memory or DVD or magnetic tape.

The hard disk of course no longer needs to be physically in the machine. So the files could be saved in the “cloud”. In this context only the cloud is just a huge collection of storage. Think of Apples iPhoto service, or Microsoft’s OneDrive as examples of cloud storage services.

Persistence storage has the characteristic that it does not require electricity to be continually flowing for the information be remembered.

Variable are stored in RAM. When the computer is switched off the contents of the RAM is lost or forgotten. Volatile memory.

When a program is finished, or exits, the variables that the program created are also destroyed or lost.

Only information saved as files and saved onto a hard disk will remain in either case.

Variables and Memory

Notes for Slide 3

Variables are stored in memory when the program runs. Variables are stored in the computers RAM (Random Access Memory). A variable only exists in memory while the program that created it is running. Once the program ends, the variable is no longer in memory. Without introducing the concept of variable scope this is a first approximation to the lifetime of a variable.

Similarly when the computer is switched off the variable is lost. This is to be expected as the program is no longer running. For the same reason the variables do not exist in RAM until the program that creates them is running.

The pupils need to understand the clear distinction between this memory, the RAM that is used when the program runs, and “memory” used to store files like documents, programs, photos or music. Files are stored on the computers hard disk, or memory (or USB) sticks or memory cards - typically used in digital cameras or smartphones. Strictly speaking these are not a type of memory. Due to the characteristics (non-volatile memory) of the storage medium this information is not lost when the computer is turned off.

More correctly they should be called persistence storage_ or just storage.

The technologies used and the process by which the data is stored on a hard disk or in a memory card is radically different from that used by RAM.

When the pupils refer to memory they should mean to the computers RAM. Likewise storage should mean the persistent storage of some kind.

The 3 Things a Variable Needs

Notes for Slide 4

The line means that a variable named “super_hero_name” of type string has been created. The line is read left to right.

The pupils stand a fair chance of just guessing this if they try to read it.

The keyword, variable name and variable type will be explained in the next slides.

Keywords are important. They carry a special meaning to Go? The keywords convey instructions to the go program, invoked with the go run command before the program is run. Their meaning is fixed so they cannot be used for any other purpose i.e. as variables names.

Keywords in Go

Notes for Slide 5

This is the complete list of keywords for Go. None of these words can be used as a variable name.

The pupils will need to use this list in the plenary

Variables have a Name

Notes for slide 6

Before a variable can be used in Go it must first be created.

The variable has to have a name so that the programmer can refer to the variable later in the program.

The variable is introduced by using the var keyword.

Rules for Variable Names

Notes for Slide 7

Although the programmer can choose the variable names they use, they must follow the rules for valid variable name. The rules are

  • A keyword cannot be used as a variable name.
  • Spaces in variables names, punctuation and mathematical symbols cannot be used as in variable name.
  • A variable name cannot be the same as a package name.
  • A variable name cannot start with a number.
  • Each variable name has to be unique.
  • Variable names can only contain letters a to z or A to Z or the numbers 0 to 9 or the underscore character _.

Pupils should be encouraged to use meaningful variable names, that reflect the content of data and the use that the variable will be put to.

Computer programs are read by other programmers many times before they are executed by a computer. Meaningful variable names, that reflect the context of the data held by the variable will improve readability of the program significantly.

While it is not illegal not to, the pupils should be encouraged to name variables starting with a lower case letter. Variables starting with an uppercase letter have a specific meaning in Go. Until packages are introduced the difference will have no consequences. But the pupils should develop the habit early.

Where a variable name consists of two or more words, it is both better and more typical Go style to use camelCase to join the words rather than an underscore, _. This has not been enforced in the example program as it may be easier for the pupils to read the version with the underscore.

Variable Names Challenge

Notes for Slide 8

The answers are

Variable NameLegalReason
ageYesThe name contains only lower case letters
AGEYesThe name contains only upper case letters
AgeYesThe name contains only upper and lower case letters
myAgeYesThe name contains only upper and lower case letters
my_ageYesThe name contains only lower case letters and an underscore _
age1YesThe name contains only lower case letters and numbers
2ageNoThe name starts with a number
my ageNoThe name contains a space
my-ageNoThe name contains a minus sign, -
my+ageNoThe name contains a plus sign, +
fmtNoThe fmt is a package name
mapNomap is a keyword

Only the first 6 are legal variable names according to the rules.

The Type of the Variable

Notes for Slide 9

When a variable is created, the program will cause the computer to reserve, or allocate a position in the computer’s memory. The computer will allocate just enough memory to store a variable. How much memory the computer will allocate depends on the type of the variable.

This is the fundamental reason why knowing the type of the variable is so important. It determines how much memory the computer will allocate.

The fact that the type of the variable can also be used to restrict the possible operations on the variable is, to some extent, a by product of this approach.

At this stage, pupils will only be introduced to two types. One type called int, short for integer, that can only be used to store whole, integer numbers. And another type that can be used to hold strings called string.

Go has other types for real i.e. deciaml fraction, numbers complex numbers, truth values (true and false), as well as more complex types used to collect data into larger groups.

Some of these will gradually be introduced in later lessons.

A variable that has a type of int can only store integer numbers in it. It would be illegal to attempt to set its value to the value of a string. And vice versa, you cannot store integer number in variable which can only hold strings.

Variables Challenge

Notes for Slide 10

The answers are:

var super_hero_name string

creates a variable called super_hero_name of type string

var number_of_webs int

creates a variable called number_of_webs of type int

var appeared_in_comic string

creates a variable called apeared_in_comic of type string

var toy_name string

creates a variable called toy_name of type string

var jetPackSpeed int

creates a variable called jetPackSpeed of type int

var appeared_in_cartoon_film string

creates a variable called apeared_in_cartoon_film of type string

var number_of_wheels int

creates a variable called number_of_wheels of type int

var numberOfFans int

creates a variable called number_of_fans of type int

var Number_of_Piston_Cups_Wins int

creates a variable called Number_of_Piston_Cups_Wins of type int

var nameOfRacer string

creates a variable called nameOfRacer of type string

Variable Creation Pattern

Notes for Slide 11

Go has three distinct ways to declare a variable. The approach shown in the lesson is the most explicit syntax. Each part of the variable declaration must be stated explicitly by the programmer.

The pattern for variable declaration is always

var name-of-variable type-of-variable

each part is separated by a space. The declaration must appear on a line on its own.

var is the keyword for a variable declaration. It must be in lower case and must be the first part of the variable declaration.

type-of-variable is the type to be used for the variable. At the moment this can only be a number type, int, or a string type, string.

name-of-variable is the name to be used for the variable. The variable name that is used must be legal one according to the rules for variable names introduced earlier.

This is more commonly called variable declaration rather than variable creation.

How to Set a Variables Value

Notes for Slide 12

The value of a variable is set using an equals sign, =. This should be read as the variable is assigned the value of. After the line has executed, the variable will contain the value that was to the right of the equals sign.

The equals sign, = is just another operator in Go, in the same was as +, -, * or / are.

In any expression, the assignment is performed last. Everything on the right hand side of the = must be evaluated first. Variable assignment is the operator with the lowest operator precedence.


The way to think of the equals operator is as the assignment operator. Do not think of it as an equivalence operator i.e are the expressions on each side of the = the same value? as it is in maths. In Go, a test for equivalence, is written with a double equals, like this ==.

The second line assigns the integer value 1001 to the variable named jetPackSpeed which must have been declared as an int, integer, type earlier in the program. If not the line would be an error

Second Variable Challenge

Notes for Slide 13

var fish_name string
var number_of_stripes
fish_name = "Nemo"

The variable fish_name is now is set to, or contains, the string Nemo

number_of_stripes = 3

The variable number_of_strips is now is set to, or contains, the int 3

fish_name = "Gill"

The variable fish_name is now is set to a new value, the string Gill. The previous value Nemo has been overwritten, it is lost and cannot be recovered.

number_of_strips = 5

The variable number_of_strips is now is set to a new value, the int 5. The previous value 3 has been overwritten, it is lost and cannot be recovered.

Variable Assignment Pattern

Notes for Slide 14

Variable assignment sets the value of the variable. The value is stored in memory and associated with the variable name.

The pattern for variable assignment is always

name-of-variable = new-value

Each part is generally separated by a space, though this is not a requirement.

name-of-variable is the name of the variable as it was previously declared. new-value is a new value of the same type as the type the variable was declared with. A string can only be assigned the value of another string. A number can only be assigned the value of another number.

How to Use a Variable

Notes for Slides 15 & 16

To use the value of the variable the programmer just has to use the variable name instead. This is exactly the same as algebra. The computer will replace the variable with the variables current value when the program runs.

The answer to the question is therefore the variable name super_hero_name should replace the ???’s.

This will print the current value i.e. Spider Man

The solution is on slide 16

The ‘hellobob’ Program

Notes for Slide 17

The pupils will need to start a terminal, open the text editor type in the hellobob program and run it.

Lets look at the example program in more detail. Here it is again.

 1package main
 3import (
 4	"fmt"
 7func main() {
 8	var name string
 9	var age int
11	name = "Bob"
12	age = 8
14	fmt.Println("The hellobob program shows you how to use variables.")
15	fmt.Println("")
17	fmt.Print("Hello, my name is ")
18	fmt.Print(name)
19	fmt.Println(".")
20	fmt.Print("I am ")
21	fmt.Print(age)
22	fmt.Println(" years old.")
Fig-1. The hellobob.go code

The important parts of the hellobobprogrm are lines 8 and 9, 11 and 12 and lines 18 and 21. The other lines are mostly Println lines that print out the strings to the terminal which the pupils have used before in thestringfun and numbers programs.

Lines 8 and 9 are the variable declarations. They follow the pattern outlined previously. Both lines read left to right. Line 8 reads as, there is a variable called name this is of type string. Line 9 reads as, there is a variable called age of type integer.

Lines 11 and 12 are the variable assignments. They follow the pattern for variable assignment outlined previously. Line 11 assigns the variable name the value of Bob. Notice that the value Bob is a string, strictly an interpreted string literal, as you can tell from the use of the double quote marks. Line 12 assigns the variable age the value of the integer number 8.

Lines 18 and 21 show the pupils how to use the variable. They just need to use the name of the variable wherever they want to use its value. In line 18 the value of name, Bob, will be printed. In line 21 the value of age, 8, will be printed.


Featured Lesson


What You are Going to Learn?

Computers are used to process data. All data is made up of numbers. Yes, really! Everything is just a bunch of numbers to a computer. These are the only things they understand.

We are going to explain how numbers are used in Go programs. Then we are going to show you how to do type sums in Go.