I teach programming at a university, at 2 freshmen courses. My students are being introduced to programming for the first time, so we have to teach them about algorithms, variables, control flow, functions, arrays (lists), etc. So this course covers the very basics. And every single year I see the same outcome: they get confused, frustrated, and the common question of "what are these exercises for" always arises. We don't even cover OOP and don't teach anything GUI (only CLI programs, just for them to grasp problem solving and creating algorithms).
So this year I'm trying to take a different approach: I'd like to start my course by showing them how to build a GUI program, at first by just asking them to copy and paste, until they have a working program by the end of the first class. Of course they won't understand a thing at first. But if I show them all the topics "in action" then I can introduce them to the students during the course and review the project we made on our first class.
The thing is, I'm not exactly sure what to show them. I think something like a calculator would be far too simple and might not be too attractive to young, 18-year old students that own mobile devices and see all kinds of cool applications every day. But something like a minesweeper game might be just too big a project for me to show as an example on the first class, considering they will be watching me build a program and trying to mimic what I do without understanding yet, so if this part of my class lasts for too long it might bore them to death :P
I know my course doesn't cover GUI, but I've noticed young students are not familiar at all with command-line, so maybe I can just tell them there are things on the program I'm showcasing that they will learn in future courses. As long as they get to see examples of the more basic stuff.
So, any good suggestions?