Tag Archives: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

What Most Schools Don’t Teach … And I’m Determined to Learn

At the beginning of both 2012 and 2013, I named learning to code as one of my goals for the year. Recently, I have been exploring new ways to accomplish that goal and I wanted to share them in case others would find them useful too!

In the past, I have explored parts of Codeacademy and TryRuby. Unfortunately, my participation on both of those sites was too sporadic to really teach me very much, so I have been looking into other ways to learn coding.

This spring, I spent more time engaging with Scratch because I hope to introduce it to my students next year. As I mentioned in January, I have been using the Super Scratch Programming Adventure book to guide my learning. Participating in the MIT Learning Creative Learning MOOC has also helped me to try new projects and actually publish one of my own on the Scratch website. I think having a resource like the Scratch book that I can carry around and explore at my own pace, one that’s engaging and asks me to create something with a purpose (e.g., a functioning game) has helped me to learn more of the program. Having the MOOC community has also made a difference because I have been exposed to a group of people engaged in similar work and willing to post their own work and share ideas. Finally, the hope of using this with my students has been a big motivator in helping me persevere with Scratch.

But what if you’re not looking to learn Scratch? Luckily, I’ve also found some other great resources recently to learn coding that have similar supports. One of them is joining local Meetup groups that supports tech learning and offer coding classes. There are actually a couple of groups in my area and they seem to collaborate together or at least announce events for one another so that I have an opportunity to learn almost any coding language I’d like by attending one of their classes. Unfortunately, some of them are pricey (at least for coding newbies on a tight budget) and they are also often on weekends, which can be a challenge sometimes.

Still, I recently attended a Python class and really loved it! I had no previous experience with Python and after a day long session on a Saturday plus a few hours Friday night, I really felt like I had a foundation for working with the language. I still need to work on learning all of the syntax rules but the logic makes much more sense and I was exposed to some great, free resources, like CodingBat and OpenHatch Wiki. Being in a room full of other learners and facilitators (who were very willing to help and problem-solve!) and having such a large block of time dedicated to learning Python, really made it manageable to dive into the language. Now, I need to get back to Codeacademy to practice and start trying to apply my knowledge!

After winning a contest on Twitter for a free class on Codagogy.com, I also took a two week course with them on the basics of HTML. As they define them it, Codagogy offers “Online collaborative web development courses.” where you can “Learn to code in a small group of like-minded women.

codagogy html image

I have picked up bits and pieces of HTML over the years working on my own websites and projects but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still learned a lot from the basics course. There were answers to little questions that I had always wondered about and wonderfully clear yet concise screencasts about the how-to’s and why’s about things like getting your own domain, finding a server, and adding alt tags to images.

Codagogy in 60 seconds from Susan Buck on Vimeo.

My favorite part of Codagogy courses is how they are structured. You join a two week course but assignments/exercises are only distributed on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, so the work is not overwhelming and is gently introduced. There are also deadlines and points you can gain from completing exercises to help keep you motivated and on-track. This is something I found I struggle with on more free-form sites like Codeacademy. Plus, there are little quizzes at the end of each exercise where you’re asked to check your understanding and also apply your knowledge, so you can walk away feeling confident about what you’ve learned and your ability to use your new skills.

Finally, you are in the course with a limited number of other participants and you have access to a course forum where you can meet/greet those other women, ask questions, and share ideas or resources. This community aspect really brings it all together and makes Codagogy a great  but flexible space to learn new coding skills. Best of all, their courses are very affordable and if you refer friends, both you and they, get $17 off!

codagogy css basics logo

I’m excited to start my next Codagogy course, CSS Basics! In an effort to get more women coding, Codagogy has kindly offered two codes to give away for a free Codagogy class. Even if you’re not looking to code right now, you can sign up for their class on SEO or get notified when Photoshop for the Web is ready.

Enter to win a free class!

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Considering the Power of Pull and Other Ideas

Before too many weeks pass (if only there were 48 hours in every day!) in the MIT #MediaLabCourse I wanted to write up a few scattered reflections on the topic of Interest-Based Learning.

I really enjoyed one of the recommended resources for this topic, Joi Ito’s Keynote to Open Educational Resources and many of the ideas he shared prompted me to think more deeply about education today.

He spoke about the “power of pull” (written about in this book), which I found intriguing. The idea is that people should avoid stocking up on resources and power and instead wait to “pull” on those things until you need them. This seems fairly contrary to much of American schooling, where students are told to “stock up” on a wide variety of knowledge, some of which they won’t use or apply for years to come (if they ever use it at all). Papert describes it nicely when he says “Many react badly to school because its emphasis on memorizing facts and acquiring skills that cannot be put to use is like a prison for a mind that wants to fly.” For example, why do we have students memorize states or countries if they’re not going to be traveling or needing that knowledge sometime soon? Before I travel to a new place, I tend to acquire and pick up a huge amount of information because I want/need to know it. I also feel like I retain more of the information when I learn it in that context because the knowledge holds more value and relevance and can be connected to my experiences.

At the same time, having attended a liberal arts institute for my undergraduate education, I can see the value of learning things that are broader than a specific unit of study or career track. Maybe part of the distinction between what’s meaningful and relevant comes with choice. When I have the ability to choose which courses I would like to join based on what intrigues or interests me, the learning inherently feels more relevant and exciting. When children are told what to stock up on and study, we create students like “Michael” who are labeled as needing special education and not successful in school even though Papert discovered he was primed to engage in mathematical thinking and engineering when he could direct his own learning and discovery.

And then there’s the idea of distributed innovation and the ability to create something amazing and powerful (e.g., the Internet) by bringing together little pieces of knowledge, skill, and talent from many different people around the world. Does that require a diversity of knowledge within each person, or just a diversity of knowledge among many? As Joi explains, the Internet has also been produced and continues to thrive due to a unique spirit where people work together, share and build new tools and sites for the sake of creation. They are motivated by the momentum created by sharing and the incentive of getting to create something. Via the Internet and technology, we are able to pull together amazing teams of people who together have more expertise than could have been assembled in any other way because the people are brought together not by money or a single organization/recruiter but by an intrinsic desire to collaborate, learn, and make something meaningful.

How can we create a similar momentum in schools? Is something missing from our current equation and if so, what is it? To me, it seems the learning-by-building or doing piece is a huge component that schools continue to avoid. Students are often not allowed to express their creative abilities and feel intrinsically motivated to collaborate and make something meaningful because we hold them back from open-ended creation. We don’t  want to “waste” too much time in the act of making or engaging in student-inspired projects that are not in the curriculum and we’re busy trying to meet set standards, which (at times) can mean every child has to do the same thing.

What if, instead, we could allow for the “rough consensus” that Joi speaks about? What if schools created a rough model of their curriculum and then constantly built upon it each year, continuing to change and develop it as an iterative guide for teachers and students but one that is responsive to individual classes’ interests and passions. Instead of trying to plan every lesson before teachers meet their students or having teacher feel unprepared because the week is not planned out minute by minute, classes could become more resilient by being able (and encouraged) to shift and adapt to changing needs and goals.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Krissy.Venosdale

Sometimes I like to imagine a classroom where everyone celebrates diversity and interdisciplinary work, a place where students are “aggressively creative” as Joi describes the MIT Media Lab and students are pushed to think for themselves and even question authority. Instead of learning that school is a place to focus and ignore the periphery – those new ideas just starting to take shape on the boundaries of a new unit or or those collaborations between home/school/community that have tentatively taken shape – students and teachers are asked to embrace them. One of the challenges of cMOOCs seems to be that people can feel overwhelmed and even shut down when faced with such an open model of learning where they decide their own goals, pace, and instruction. If our classrooms where more allowing of community learning, each student named as a teacher as well as a learner, and there was constant serendipitous creation of new ideas and projects, would cMOOCs be such a difficult learning environment?

I’m left wondering and imagining and most recently, thinking about constructing powerful ideas. Are there any in the mix in this post? Are there ideas that I have begun to ignore as those ideas have become disempowered in schools and education?