Teaching Python

We're two middle school teachers learning and teaching Python


I recently finished both the Mindshift book and course by Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski, and my motivation to write this blog comes from what I have taken in during this experience.

When I started to code, I really did not appreciate the powerful change that was about to occur, not only in my teaching but also in how I think and solve problems. After reflection, I identified moments where both my weaknesses and strengths benefited me; an understanding of the power of 'switching gears' between my passions and work; and a realization that a new way of encouraging students needed to be adopted.

The Benefits of your Weaknesses

Learners come in all 'shapes and sizes.' I learned quickly during my pre-med Biology program that I was not a good memorizer. It took a lot of effort for me to recall things. However, in some courses, like Anatomy, I excelled because it had a lab associated with them. I remembered muscle groups and bones from the lab and dissection exercises because I was 'doing' the investigation. Being active in your learning helps your brain to recall and process as you learn. Active learning is defined as "any approach to instruction in which all students are asked to engage in the learning process.

Mastering content or a new role in your job is possible. If you have the luxury of learning it at your own pace, wonderful. If you have a deadline, do not stress. Steady and consistent learning with positive growth is attainable. I like to remind myself of a quote from the book High Expectations Teaching, "Smart is something you can get." Take your time to digest new material at your own pace.

Always identify your strengths and weaknesses in learning. Look for ways to use your strengths to minimize, while still growing, your weaknesses. When I learned how to code, I took every possibility to talk code out and code as I learned. I also wrote things down a lot. I needed to "do" in order to learn.

When I started to teach code, I encourage the students to write a lot of code. In a one-quarter course, my 6th graders roughy type 8000 - 15,000 lines of code. People are surprised by how much my students learn. I know that part of their success is due to their "doing of the work!"

I am a very slow reader. I take every opportunity to read as much as possible and various types of reading material. To improve a weakness, you need to practice that weakness intentionally and faithfully. When you code or try to solve coding problems, it is essential to sift through reading material to develop a solution. My reading weakness is offset, yet still practiced by my strength in information and media literacy skills. I can locate valid and reliable information that is easier to comprehend. I improve my reading and research skills and become faster at finding the right information and still process what I read efficiently.

Focus on your weaknesses not because they set you back but because they help you find new ways to succeed. In Mindshift, they discuss the fact that bad memorizers are often very creative, just because you cannot commit things to memory as quickly as others, do not stress, you have a strength in you that they may not have. Use your creativity to enhance how you learn and work.

Ability to Switch Gears

One of the concepts that really played a critical role in my learning was my work environment. In the MOOC course, we discussed how the people you hang out with can strongly influence who you become. For me, this is a resounding, 'YES, I agree!" I would add that having two opposing environments in your life can be beneficial to your work and health.

Learning to code takes a commitment to learning. This is especially true if you are trying to make a career shift as a developer. You may feel that you need to learn everything you can, all at once, to try to catch up with those who have been coding for years. At times imposter syndrome may kick in, and you push yourself more. "Go! Go! Go!"

Trying to learn too much at one time is counterproductive. You need to switch gears and surround yourself with the right people. Your environment for learning is critical to your success.

At work, I tend to surround myself with active learners and do-ers. These are people who take courses for the experience of learning and not just the degree. People who take on projects because they learn by doing; people who read books to better understand life and who always push themselves to improve, not only because they have to, but because they are committed to becoming life-long learners. These people are continually pushing the limits and motivate me to always try to outperform my current self. Surround yourself with colleagues or peers that inspire you and help you improve.

At home, I am surrounded by family who reminds me that switching off and slowing down provides me more time to play, read magical stories, and create new things and crafts. They remind me that less is more, and the freed-up time makes space for more fun, love, and creativity. Switching off provides time for me to focus on my health and well being. And it gives me the added benefit of allowing my brain to organize all that information that I learned during the day.

These opposing lifestyles help to create positive environments that contribute to productivity and success. I like to think of it as an "extended 8 hour Pomodoro method" of work and focused learning with "extended 5 hours" of play and diffused learning. Switching gears and learning multiple things will help you grow your knowledge stack and 'broaden your passions.' Your environments can be various too, and not just at home.

Take a look at the environments where you live and work. Are they conducive to growth and improvement? Do they expose you to new areas that will encourage development? If not, change your environments,

Adopting a New Pedagogy

When I was little, I loved everything about porpoises. I wanted to be a marine biologist. I loved being on the boat in the middle of the ocean. People who loved me encouraged me to follow my passion, all except my Marine Scientist godfather, said, "Don't follow your passion, let that be your hobby. Being a Marine Biologist who only works with dolphins may be too specialized; you need to make sure that you have a backup plan."

Follow your passion. It is a common statement that many adults tell children. It is well-intentioned, but it can cause a bit of a stifle in the future. This also applies to adults. Following one passion is not bad, but it does not allow you to broaden yourself. To expand in areas and develop skills that may become your passion one day. Having a job where you are specialized or only know one thing can backfire on you and leave you questioning what next.

Don't encourage students to just "follow their passions". Encourage them to find many passions. Encourage them to find a love in learning and investigating new things, and developing the topics they love.

Picking up a hobby and learning something new can help you grow as a learner and help you in your current career. Take some online courses, learn new topics, pick up a new hobby or craft, or read various books. You never know how learning a new skill can brighten and open up your future. As quoted from the Mindshift course, "With the disruption of the new information economy comes plenty of new opportunities. Be prepared for a lifetime of learning!"


Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential
by McMaster University https://www.coursera.org/learn/mindshift/home/welcome

Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential Paperback – April 18, 2017