CodeAcademy: improving education one idea at a time

children codeacademyIn a piece I recently wrote, I talked about things education can benefit from and how new methods of teaching on the Internet have changed the way we SHOULD look at the standard models of education, inside the classroom.

I also recently wrote about the Hour of Code, mighty excited about that; an object oriented approach that helps anyone from a child to a grown adult to learn and retain basic coding knowledge.
That’s enough of a catalyst to get you moving in the world of learning. I went from being generally interested in computers to having a refreshed drive to learn just about anything!

I’m tech savvy, I understand a bit of everything when it comes to computers. I might not be able to properly syntax an IF-ELSE-IF statement, but I understand the logic behind it. Likewise, I understand most of what my IT friends talk about, even without fully comprehending how it’s done.

So I thought, I’m the perfect candidate here, I can try taking an extra class of a different kind to see what I can learn there too.
Was it The Hour of Code that was so good, or was it my interest that made the course a success?

Well, it’s both, but my quest here is not about learning, alone. It’s about learning while finding out how each method I try is better than how I was taught in school.
It’s actually a very bitter pill to swallow, thinking, could have I become a different person if school was as different and diverse as education can be today?

Even better, looking at how different my parents were taught in school in contrast to my education is evidence enough of how changes in the education system make people grow up and develop differently.

My parents were taught 5 languages in school, I was taught 2, with a choice to learn a third language in high-school (I say that’s too late).
Both my parents became translators, they used every tool in their arsenal to study in good universities and at the end of the day they had enough tools to go any direction they wanted in life.

In essence, changing the way we teach at school can very well shape the next generation in a way we want to make sure is favorable to them. By favorable I don’t mean that we should manipulate children into becoming something specific, grounded and set by popular opinion; rather, I mean that we need to equip children to explore their own alternatives based on their own interests and a plethora of different teaching materials, in order to properly comprehend and decide on their own what direction suits them in life.

Why Coding though?

Well, the reason you’re reading this is because some curious minds did exactly what I’m suggesting today. Every interaction on the Web and every process, happen through systems that are very simple-looking, but rather complex on the inside. Complex isn’t bad though; if everything we did in life was easy then there would be no reason to be good at it, no edge or competition, and definitely no drive to pioneer.

It would sound awfully one sided to suggest that we put all our eggs on the technology-basket, and I would never suggest just that. Shifting our supply of minds from all other fields to a single field is as inefficient as telling our children that the ideal career is that of a doctor, lawyer or civil engineer (subconsciously rendering all other careers lesser).

Coding is much more than “the backbone of all things tech”.

  • It’s a kind of language (actually, there are tens of different coding languages), and learning how to speak “Computer” allows you to know how to tell your computer to do what you want. Cool, right?
  • Understand & Create! Knowing how to code means understanding why pressing A resulted in B. It also means the development of problem solving and reasoning which are vital attributes in life, not just computers.

How does CodeAcademy differ from the standard education model?

Like most eLearning platforms, the way CodeAcademy is structured is using audiovisual content – and an interactive “Coding board” in which you can type in and it shows you the result of your work in a window next to the code, as-you-type. In most instances, learning is facilitated using video, in which the teacher’s screen is shared to all. Throughout the lecture-video you are asked to pause and modify the code used in the video in order to understand it bit-by-bit and make changes to complete or improve your code, and get the end-result.

A lot of examples are used, and reference to other coding bits are given at the bottom of the lecture page so you can create using your imagination, try new things, make mistakes and learn by finding out how to repair mistakes and possible bugs.

Something which was stressed a lot in my introductory course, was that making mistakes is important. Coding is a creative process; it’s also about knowing what to apply and where, but going through the code, the slightest of details (such as a semi-colon) may render the program unable to be run. Learning to use mistakes as an incentive to pay closer attention to detail and always be on alert for minor bugs is one of the things coders are known for.

I talked about developing problem solving and reasoning; add attention to detail to the list. Activities we engage in subconsciously leave their mark on us when done for some time; for example: a kickboxer will always be more alert for an assault on the street, whereas an architect will always view buildings and structures with a more critical eye – understanding details others wouldn’t.

The point of education should be to provide children and adults the stimuli to engage in further learning. You could call it a stepping stone toward the realization of possibilities. We should strive to offer equal opportunities for everyone to choose their path.

CodeAcademy offers an otherwise boring or cluttered-with-jargon course (which you can find in books and universities for the past few decades) in a way that’s interesting, engaging, moderatelypaced and with countless opportunities to deviate from the standard material and create on your own, using references and other material on-site.

What should we take out of this?

Take the time to explain, allow for user feedback; students need time to process and find mistakes (bugs) in their thinking (code).
– Use examples, simplify.
Try, fail and try again. Understand why A leads to B, don’t learn it by heart.
Be cross-disciplined. Learn new things, they leave their mark.

What activity last inspired you to get out of your comfort zone? Is there something in specific which motivates you to keep learning? Let us know!

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