A coding resolution for the new year (deja vu?)

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Image Source: http://coachtoddreed.com/2013/make-this-new-years-resolution-stick/

I have not traditionally been a person who makes New Years resolutions. I do believe resolutions are important, as the act of declaring some kind of promise with the intention of self-improvement is a wonderful practice. I simply believe it can be worthwhile to declare resolutions throughout the year.

This being said, I have recently come to realize that perhaps there is something I have overlooked about the practice of declaring resolutions for a new year. There is something important about the time between Winter Solstice, marking the shortest day/longest night of each year, and the first day of the Gregorian Calendar, January 1. This stretch of roughly eleven days can easily cause disruptions in one’s mental and physical health. Cold, darkness, holidays, travel, and an increase in social obligations cause typical routines to shift. For teachers of all kinds, the stretch between semesters can provide time for rest, but can also necessitate more time spent finishing work from Fall semester and planning and organizing for Spring semester. All of this can leave us feeling disconnected and anxious, creating a need for self-renewal.

January 1 isn’t necessarily the day when I feel my energy needing a specific renewal effort, but I do always feel that need at some point in January. My typical formula for self-renewal includes more yoga, more tea (less coffee), less sugar, and more quality time with friends and loved ones. This year, I am adding an additional variable to my formula: more coding. More specifically, I’m re-committing myself to the resolution I made almost 4 months ago to learn to code. Continue reading

Thanks Barbie, for another reason NOT to want to be you!

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This is the fatal page from the 2010 Barbie book I Can Be a Computer Engineer.  Barbie goes on to give her sister Skipper’s computer a virus, get some boys to help her fix it, and finally take individual credit for the whole shebang (including the robot puppy game that the boys programmed). At no point does Barbie do any coding at all. You can read the original blog post that brought this controversy to light here.

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Oh the Nostalgia! That peach gown was my favorite. http://goo.gl/XBhYad

I never really identified with Barbie.  Sure I played with her, but what little girl in the 80’s didn’t? However, I wasn’t blonde or skinny. I didn’t care to drive a pink corvette, wish to own a “dream house”, or marry my very own Ken doll. I didn’t want to be Barbie, and didn’t care what kinds of new careers she was trying out. I mostly liked to dress her up, which might have had a slight impact on my love of costuming and fanciness, but that is the extent of her influence.

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She was fun, but never any real impact on my life (or so I like to think…) Continue reading

“Rails for Zombies” for Halloween?

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I love Halloween!  The whole spirit of the day is so refreshing and whimsical.  Everyone has fun, and there are few family or religious obligations attached. (…obligations that can make other holidays more stressful!)  Plus, if you happen to be a Halloween grinch, all you have to do is make sure your porch light is off, and Viola!  You have the perfect excuse to curl up in your basement with a good book or a movie and ignore the world for a night. Halloween is a win-win.

One of my favorite parts about the holiday is that it gives all of us over-worked, over-tired, over-stressed, and entirely-too-serious adults an excuse to just take a breath and to think like children for a day. We can delight in the excitement of the little ghosts and goblins (and Elsa’s and Spidermen) that haunt our streets for just one night every year  We all get to have fun, forget our troubles, and pretend we are someone else. We can adopt a sense of wonder and just PLAY!  Continue reading

Should Everyone Learn to Code?

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Should everyone learn to code? Maybe, maybe not…but that is not exactly what I aim to debate on this blog (although I welcome the debate if it happens!)

I do, however, believe that every child should have a shot at understanding and learning about coding. Because of that, I’ve come to believe that in the not-too-distant future, teachers will need to know something about computer programming. We should know what code is, know how to write some of it, and know about the types of thinking it takes to successfully write code.

Why?

Because it will make us better teachers!  As our world becomes more and more computer-driven, there will be more and more conversations about computer programming.  More and more children will want to explore and learn coding. Should all those children be encouraged to become professional computer programmers?  Not necessarily, but their natural interests and curiosities around coding and computer programming should be encouraged and supported as they figure out whether or not programming is something they’d like to pursue.

Further, How can teachers support the interests and curiosities if they themselves have no idea what coding is or how it can be used?  We can sit children in front of computers with Hour of Code, or a Scratch tutorial, but if we ourselves don’t know what they are doing, how can we help and support them?  Are we really being good teachers?

I think much of the debate around “should everyone learn to code?” largely misses the point.   Continue reading

Fighting Back Against “I’m Terrible at Math”

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Many teachers, and many people in general feel terrible at math. In the article, The Myth of “I’m Bad at Math”, by Miles Campbell and Noah Smith analyzes this phenomenon and makes a very compelling case for why this is so dangerous in our society.  They say “We hear it all the time. And we’ve had enough. Because we believe that the idea of “math people” is the most self-destructive idea in America today. The truth is, you probably are a math person, and by thinking otherwise, you are possibly hamstringing your own career.”

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I grew up thinking I was bad at math.  Many of us did!  I believe this phenomenon is part of why I’ve never (until now) considered that computer programming was even worth trying to understand. “I’m terrible at math”, is something that many of us feel completely comfortable and even proud saying to pretty much anyone.

When we think about a teacher proudly proclaiming “I’m terrible at reading!”, it does not seem acceptable. We’d all probably think less of this person. So why is it acceptable with math and not acceptable with reading? This is a question all teachers need to examine. There really shouldn’t be a difference between the two.

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Ruby or JavaScript?

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Which Programming Language to choose to learn first?  As I said in this post, I’ve received opposing advice from more knowledgeable peers about which might be easier and why.  I need to figure out which language is easier for me, and start there.

I thought it might be helpful to break down what I know about each so far.  I can not boast feeling very knowledgeable about either, but I have done some pieces of tutorials for both.  So far, it’s not too confusing to do both at the same time.  In fact, it’s helpful!  Both tutorials contain the same vocabulary, for example Math, Strings, and Functions. Those are some of the things that you can write using JavaScript or Ruby.  Learning about those and other basic components of coding in two different languages is actually helping me feel like I can understand them more deeply.  Each tutorial explains them differently, so each new explanation provides a little more depth to my thinking.

I can’t yet say which I think will be easier to continue with, but I can simply say that I’m understanding more, making coding in general feel easier.

Here’s a snapshot of some differences, thanks to resources from Github, Codecademy, and TryRuby.org.


Math is probably the most basic thing you can do with programming, so possibly the easiest to understand for complete beginners or non-code types:

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