Ok, so last night I put on my big girl pants and went to a Meetup at the Denver Library called “Learn to Code”. The description was this: Open house/study group focused on learning code at varying skill levels. All are welcome to come with or without experience, a computer, or an RSVP. I thought this sounded perfect! I have no experience, I do have a computer, and I did RSVP. I met all the criteria!
Over the past several years, I have become a pretty solid professional networker, so I’m comfortable with the thought of something like this…but man! It was still hard to walk through that door! Being a good networker in education circles does not really prepare you to cast yourself into a room with a bunch of people who you know nothing about, and who you are pretty sure have no interest in discussing education (and they shouldn’t! They want to learn how to code!) It was intimidating and daunting, and perfect, because part of the reason I wanted to do this was to meet people who are different from me. I want to meet people with completely different skill sets and learn from and with them. Sure, it’s easy to walk into a room of teachers and start a conversation about the importance of nature-based education, or why we don’t get the respect we deserve. Walking into a room with a whole different purpose was scary, but exciting!
What did I learn? A LOT!
First I’ll back up and tell you that this was my first Meetup, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but I had a loose idea that there would be some type of leader who would teach something (education is my context, after all!) There was a leader-type whose name is Drew. He introduced some of the technological resources and classes offered by the Denver Public Library through the ideaLAB. (Which is pretty awesome, by the way! If you live in or around Denver, check it out!) Then, everyone went around the room (there was somewhere between 15 & 20 people there) and introduced themselves, said how much they knew already, and what they wanted to learn about.
Then came a moment of panic when Drew told us we should just find something to do or someone to talk to about what we want to learn. As my stomach turned over and I looked around blankly, it seemed like many of the people actually seemed to know what to do. I myself had no idea what I wanted to learn! People either started working on their computers or started talking to each other about programming languages. Hmmm…after giving myself a little pep talk, I went to talk to Drew (when in doubt, talk to the teacher…or at least the person in the room who you have assigned the role of teacher, right?)
When I asked for tips on where to start, I was relieved that Drew had several suggestions for resources to look at that focused on learning to code and on teaching code in schools. I was even more relieved that a few folks around me seemed just as lost as I felt, and quickly joined in the conversation for “super beginners” (as I’m affectionately calling it!).
It was really cool! Some of the more knowledgeable people around the super-beginners started telling us more resources to check out, and we all discussed some benefits and drawbacks to different ways to start. My favorite part was that there was no real consensus on where to start, but that everyone seemed to have different opinions. Further, they were all respectful of each other’s different opinions, and no one was trying to convince anyone of the ultimate best place to start. The best advice was just to start playing with some tutorials and pick the ones that you like best or the one that makes the most sense to you.
YES! As a student, I would have been completely open to having someone tell me the definitive “right” place to start. I have, however, been an educator long enough to know that it’s slower but infinitely better to find your own path! Upon reflection, I realized that this was constructivist learning theory at its finest!
I got so many resources and great ideas, and will list them here. I completely appreciate this experience, and I think the most useful thing was to just be in a room with a diverse group of thinkers and learners. Some people were super beginners like me, and some were more knowledgeable ranging from knowing a little to knowing a lot. It was interesting to talk to the other super beginners, because there’s camaraderie in that! It was also interesting to listen to the more knowledgeable people’s conversations because it just gave me exposure to language around programming.
I was actually pleasantly surprised because I found I could follow more of the knowledgeable people’s conversations than I expected. I think I’m starting to be able to understand the talk (meaning I understand the words they say and can place them in context)…not quite talking the talk, and a long way from walking the walk, but a step. I’m a teacher who has spent my life avoiding technical-speak in favor of discussions about feelings, so I can say with confidence that the experience felt empowering!
The other cool thing is that I established myself as a super-beginner from the very beginning of this experience, so when the more knowledgeable people were talking, I could follow along but knew that they didn’t expect me to understand everything they were saying. You know that feeling when someone’s talking and you are totally confused, but feel utterly moronic asking questions because you SHOULD know what the person’s talking about? I didn’t have a shred of that feeling! I was enjoying being a super beginner and not having any expectations on me.
I will definitely go back to this group, and highly recommend this experience to anyone who is interested in learning about coding (whether it’s in Denver or anywhere else! There are tons of Meetups all over the place!) It’s one thing to read about coding, and a totally different thing to toss yourself into a room with other humans who want to know about it. If you are intimidated, just take comfort in knowing that there are others in the room who will be too!
I have lots of tutorials to try out now, so will stop writing this blog and start learning something!