Teaching Python

We're two middle school teachers learning and teaching Python

Specialization is for insects

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." — Robert Heinlein

I was at the right place at the right time, and now I am a coder. This is not the case for everyone in the educational system who teaches coding. Most people are often surprised when I mention that I only began coding three years ago. I did not come into coding of my own "free will", though the reason I am still at it and why I love it, would no doubt cause some surprise.

Anyone who wants to develop a specific skill set, for example, learning to play an instrument, has to maintain a focused and intense effort to rack up as many hours of practice as possible. This deliberate effort is guaranteed to allow a person to develop expertise in the subject. However, if one procrastinates, one is unlikely to achieve success, nor will one be able to "catch up" to others who started sooner and were more diligent and focused.

There is a direct correlation; the more effort one puts in, the more likely one is to succeed. This focused learning concept is not rocket science, nor is it a newfound method for learning something; so how come, then, more of us are not experts in our fields? Why are we all not specialists in something?

David Epstein, in his book Range, explores the concept of generalization and how it beats specialization. He proposes that one does not need a head start to be good at something; one must only try, and try again because learning by failing is the best way to learn.

Epstein highlights stories of the world's most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters, and scientists, and throughout these epic stories, he proves that generalists, not specialists, are destined to surpass the greatest in the field. Generalists frequently set their path late, and they manifest numerous interests rather than concentrating on a singular one. They are also more imaginative, sprightlier, and far more relevant than their more focused peers.

Barbara Oakley, who wrote "Mindshift", also believes in the power of "second career" learners. Those that learn an opposite skill enhance their confidence and career prospects.

Is it possible that everyone learning to code later in life can achieve the same goal? I believe so.

Does one need to be a programmer and only code for a career? No, but you could if you wanted to.

I am no different from most educators who have a passion for learning. There is a desire to understand what is unknown and research more, and learn deeper in our obsession. I say obsession in a truly positive manner.

Nevertheless, is staying a specialist in only one field always the best option? How can we, as teachers, embrace lifelong learning if we do not struggle to learn something new throughout our lives? What new skill can you learn today that is completely opposite of your current role and may require you to struggle and fail?

What can you do that will surprise you?

For all those who say, "I can't code" or "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." I challenge you!