Interest-Based Learning: Keeping it Lively!

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From “Why’s Poignant Guide to Ruby”. Click the image to see the book!

Ruby has quickly become my language of choice. There’s something about it that just draws me. It might be because I’ve started reading “Why’s Poignant Guide to Ruby”, and he agrees it’s important to submit to something that draws you.

Not familiar?  Here’s a passage:

“This world’s too big for such a a little language, I thought. Poor little thing doesn’t stand a chance. Doesn’t have legs to stand on. Doesn’t have arms to swim.”

…”So, now you’re wondering why I changed my mind about Ruby. The quick answer is: we clicked.

Like when you meet Somebody in college and they look like somebody who used to hit you in the face with paintbrushes when you were a kid. And so, impulsively, you conclude that this new Somebody is likely a non-friend. You wince at their hair. You hang up phones loudly during crucial moments in their anecdotes. You use your pogo stick right there where they are trying to walk!

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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:

Ruby                                                                                              JavaScript

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Coding? Easy? If Only!

Java Script or Ruby?  This is a conundrum.  

Earlier this week, I was convinced that Ruby was a good place for me to start in my quest to learn how to code.   This is based on people telling me that “it’s easy”, and reading similar things.  I had spent some time tinkering with a “15-minute” Ruby tutorial, and felt like I kind of understood a few basic concepts and vocabulary (very basic!!)

A conversation that I had a my first “Learn to Code” Meetup made me question my course of action.  I more knowledgeable person where I should start, and he recommended Java Script.  He said it was a pretty universal and popular programming language to know about, and recommended Codecademy‘s tutorial as a good place to start.  I told him that Ruby had been recommended because it was “easy”, and he offered a really interesting challenge to this logic.  

Ruby, he explained, uses a lot of commands that are written like English, which is why people like it and think it’s easy.  (Yes, that sounds good to me…) Java Script uses a lot more symbols and characters that look “kind of weird”.  Because of this, you are learning a little bit more about the fundamentals of coding.  Ruby might be a little easier to learn, but beginners might understand a little less about what they are actually doing.  Thus, it could be harder to get good at, and harder to apply to other languages.

This intrigued me! I like to know fundamentals and to understand the “why” in things, and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of worry that my journey with coding could have a similar outcome to my journey with math. I have never been crazy about math. It always seemed hard and tedious.  I remember learning Algebra in high school.  For a while, I understood how to do it and why I was doing it.  Then, at a certain point, I stopped understanding the “why”.  I can remember the details of the high school classroom, and even where I was sitting when I stopped understanding, but I have no idea what type of problem we were on.  I could still figure out how to DO what the course was asking me to do and I did ok (but not great).  I felt disengaged because I like to know the point of what I’m doing, and be connected to it emotionally.  It got really boring and stayed that way. I could still memorize how to do the problems, but they did not seem to have any real-world application, so my interest completely faded.  I took as much math in high school as I had to, and as soon as the requirements were met, I started taking more art and other “fun” classes. 

confused1What a missed opportunity!  Every once in a while, situations pop up in my life now when algebra is necessary (modifying recipes, for example). I always wish that I had known the right questions to ask in high school so I would retain some type of understanding, but at least Google tends to work well in those moments.  However, I don’t want the same thing to happen with coding!  I want to know how to do it and want to understand the “why” as much as the “how”.  

So what do I do? Java Script or Ruby? Which advice do I take? I don’t want to choose the wrong path, and end up bored and disengaged, which is a realistic possibility with both languages, but which one is better?  

I’ve analyzed this quite a bit…probably too much.  I talked with a teacher friend tonight, and presented this quandary.  She reminded me of a TED talk that I love by Kristen Wheeler on finding your native genius.  This talk has nothing to do with either coding or teaching.  Rather, it speaks to motivation and potential.  Kristen’s makes the point that if you start learning about something that you are already good at or naturally feels “easy”, then you flourish.  If you start learning about something that is naturally hard for you, it’s not impossible but the process will be slower and clunkier.   Continue reading

My First Meetup

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!

bird_girlOver 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!

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Why Coding? Why Now?

Every person and every teacher must answer these questions for him or herself. To add to my full disclosure, I’ll just tell you a little bit about why I am a teacher learning to code. Maybe you will relate, maybe not. There are basically 4 reasons:

Reason #1: My husband (I know…it sounds like a silly reason, but just read on!)

That brain is always going...what does it DO?
That brain is always going…what does it DO?

My husband is a programmer, and I can honestly say that I never even knew what programming WAS until I met him 4 years ago. I still don’t, but I know a little bit more more now than I did when we met.  Sometimes I watch him work and it looks like madness to me…I watch him scroll back and forth between 3 or 4 different screens on his laptop, each with several open windows containing colors, letters, numbers, symbols, flashing, etc…I don’t understand any of it. It looks nuts! I am way less intimidated by the notion of learning to speak Korean!

Since I have this close relationship with a programmer, I’ve been able to learn a great deal about him in all areas of life, and our brains definitely work differently.  He’s a logical thinker. He likes neat, clean solutions to things and yes/no answers. I can’t stand being asked a yes/no question…I’m an educator whose primary goal is to provoke people to think for themselves.  I think that “wrong answers” exist in some situations, but I don’t really believe in definitive “right answers”… I believe in opinions and experiments and actions and consequences, and LEARNING.  I believe learning is messy…and programming LOOKS messy…but I suspect it’s a lot more neat and clean than it looks. (…but maybe not!)

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Full Disclosure

Ok, so I’m a teacher learning to code, but why should you care? I’ll try to paint a picture of who I am so you can decide if you do or not! What comes to mind when you think of a teacher? I’d guess your brain conjures an image of someone like this: (These are the first 3 images that come up when you do a Google Image search for “teacher”)

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Well…I’m not that kind of teacher! (I’m actually not sure these people exist.)  I’ve never written on a chalkboard in front of students, I never rely on curriculums published in books (though I frequently incorporate books into curriculum), and I believe that chalk is best suited for creative use on the sidewalk.

This is me:

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