Disequilibrium: Learning Theory and Personal Practice

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Notable Swiss child development theorist, Jean Piaget, explained learning as a continual process of achieving equilibrium, or balance, in our state of “knowing”…Then that balance is challenged when we encounter new stimuli, resulting in disequilibrium. When this happens, we try to apply our existing schemas (knowledge or ways of knowing) to the new stimuli (assimilation).  We also seek and adopt entirely new schemas (accommodation).  We tinker with all of this until we achieve that state of balance, or equilibrium once again.  (Until the next time we encounter new stimuli…)

Disequilibrium, also known as cognitive dissonance, is not a very comfortable state to be in.  It can feel frustrating, and challenging.  It can cause fear, anxiety, and even panic. It is, however, necessary for true learning to take place. If we never encounter anything that challenges our current ways of thinking or knowing, then we never move forward. We never get smarter, more adept, more diverse, more eclectic, and that seems like such a dull place to be!

Since I started learning how to code, I’ve been thinking a lot about disequilibrium. Continue reading

Pre-Coding Part 1: A Quick Look Backward, or “What the Heck is Pre-Coding?”

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When I started my personal project to learn to code almost five months ago, I wrote a blog post titled Why Coding? Why Now?, dated October 6, 2014. I listed out my main motivations for wanting to learn to code, and I want to revisit one of them today: To dissect what “pre-coding” is. I want to spend some time processing what I have learned about coding since this project began, and to pull out some thoughts about what types of skills, ways of thinking, and mindsets precede understanding computer programming. I want to use this blog to continue to explore these ideas, but first I want to look back to October 2014 and revisit my words surrounding this topic:


What is Pre-Coding? (Written in October, 2014)

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Click here to learn more about the Catherine Cook School

In 2013, I attended a conference in Chicago entitled “Technology in the Early Years”, hosted by The Erikson Institute and Columbia College in Chicago. We got to visit an amazing school called the Catherine Cook School. This school really embraces utilizing technological tools to enhance children’s learning.  A conversation with a preschool teacher at this school was a pivotal moment in motivating me to learn to code.  The teacher explained why using a visually linear calendar with children (depicts months as a single line of days, rather than blocked into a rectangle of weeks) provided support for “pre-coding” skills.  

This was really interesting to me, because I had heard of linear calendars, but never discussed in this way.  Some prekindergarten classrooms at Boulder Journey School (The school at which I work) use them.  For preschoolers who are just beginning to learn about time, it is often more logical to present days visually as a single line rather than in seven-day blocks. This does not mean you never get to the traditional blocked, stacked weeks calendar, but it is a more natural progression of learning. However, at this moment in 2013 I was simply amazed to hear someone make a connection between a single line of symbols and supporting a child’s ability to understand computer code later in life.  

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An example of a linear calendar, image source: http://bit.ly/1Epfela
A traditional calendar…This is the way we usually represent days and weeks, but why? Image Source: http://www.1plus1plus1equals1.com/calendar.html
A traditional calendar…This is the way we usually represent days and weeks, but why?
Image Source: http://www.1plus1plus1equals1.com/calendar.html

A slight diversion for those of you who don’t know:  “pre-” is what preschool teachers do (and it’s REALLY important!) Preschool teachers do not deliver formal reading instruction. They incorporate pre-literacy skills into what they teach. For example, understanding that letters have sounds, groups of letters are words, words have meaning, words can be grouped together to make sentences, etc. Children need to know all kinds of things about reading before they actually learn to read, and that is one thing preschool is for. Research shows that if children do not have opportunities to learn all this stuff, it is much harder for them to learn to read and is likely to make school harder for the rest of their lives.  Pre-math skills are just as important. Continue reading

What IS Coding? Gearing up for Computer Science Education Week & An Hour of Code

I sat at a Thanksgiving dinner table about a week and a half ago with a group of friends.  We were enjoying our feast and chatting about this and that. Since most of us at the table were either teachers, spouses of teachers, or children…you can imagine how our conversation kept drifting back to issues in education.  I started telling one friend about my goal of learning to code, and she asked a simple question:

“What IS coding anyway?”

This question provoked a little nervous tingle, as I realized this was the first time I had been asked to explain something about coding to another teacher. I had to stop, rewind my brain to just over two months ago when I started to explore this very question, and try to conceive an answer that would make sense to someone with the same background and lack of technical expertise as myself. My response was something like this:

“Coding is very basically giving your computer a set of instructions that you write in a programming language. The computer then responds by doing what you told it to do.”

I was relieved when this came out of my mouth and I realized that it largely made sense. This conversation also made me realize that could be important to spend some more time considering what that coding really is, and ponder some ways to synthesize and explain it to people who might not have any background, or might never have had any interest before. 

When I was first learning to code, I would Google things like “programming for beginners”, “what is coding?” and “learning to code”. My search efforts would return tons of great resources for people who already know a little bit about computers, and are not completely intimidated by words like “algorithm”. Many of the search results assume you know what a “console” is, are already comfortable with words like “variables” and “data types”, or what a “platform” is. If you don’t already know these things, do not worry about them! I think there is a level of beginner explanation that is just plain difficult to find. Just to be clear, I recognize that there are tons of great beginner resources out there…I just found myself wishing for an even more novice level of basic description. With this in mind, I’m going to attempt to offer my own supplement, and explain programming in a way that makes sense to me and might appeal to a broad array of non-programmers. 

This seems like a particularly relevant thing to do now, since this is Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 8 – 14). All this week, millions of children around the world will participate in “An Hour of Code“. This is a challenge to teachers, administrators, community members, and families to offer children “a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics.” Code.org is organizing and promoting this challenge, and they offer tons of great resources on their website. 

Note: Although some argue that there are differences, I use “coding” and “programming” interchangeably throughout this post in reference to “the act of writing computer programs”. 

Keep reading if:

  • You have ever wondered about coding/programming
  • You have never wondered about coding/programming (because it is never too late to start!)
  • You have tried to look up coding and programming before, and didn’t gain a whole lot of understanding
  • You do not consider yourself very tech-savvy or computer literate
  • You are curious about how someone who meets the above criteria might explain programming
  • You are curious what children are actually learning from beginner tutorials 

Continue reading

Barbie Reflects on Her Impact: A Story About Possibilities

This is my last post about Barbie, I promise! I just couldn’t resist using to Feminist Hacker Barbie site to look at the bright side before this whole internet controversy dissolves away. At the end of the day, this book gave us the opportunity to start a meaningful dialogue about gender roles, so let’s keep talking about it! (This is for Alex…thanks for the idea!)png-12 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

Metacognition: Thinking About My Coding Thoughts

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Image source: http://www.gizmag.com/ibm-supercomputer-simulates-a-human-sized-brain/25093/

If metacognition can be considered a hobby, then it is definitely one of mine. (I fully realize how nerdy that sounds.)

I love thinking about thinking! When you work with young children, you have to become a “thought detective”. Young children’s brains are developing so quickly and efficiently, and teachers have to know how to support that. We have to be able to speak and interpret lots of different languages, many of which are nonverbal.  In order to do this, we have to really dig deep into our own analytical brains and constantly evaluate and reevaluate things we see happening in front of us.

We have to be able to think about children’s thinking, but also about our own! Continue reading

“It’s Never Too Early to Develop”…Is this Brilliant, or Simply Novel?

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Photo Source: Codebabies.com

(from website) It’s never too early to be standards compliant! Show your little ones HTML markup code along with letter forms to get them started on the visual patterns and symbols that make up the essential building blocks of the Web. The first in a three-volume set, originally designed by a NYC Web Designer for his baby, this beautiful book is a fun and colorful introduction to the world of web design for babies.

I’m not too sure how I feel about this!

On the one hand:

I mean…I know that giving any book to a baby is better than giving no book to a baby.

Exposure to print is great (and necessary) for babies’ pre-literacy development.

I also know that exposure to simple, clean designs with high contrast is naturally interesting and engaging for them, while also supporting their ocular development.

I also know babies have an incredible capacity for learning language before the age of 3.  The more language exposure babies get results in more foundational neurochemistry being established for learning languages later in life.

I also know that part of the barrier to learning to code is just being exposed to it, and NOT thinking that it looks and sounds alien. (I know this from experience…I can say that now!) Thus, this simple exposure could provide some foundations for code being accepted as a cultural reality in one’s world.

I also think this is clever! I mean…”It’s never too early to develop”…that is fantastic! Continue reading