A few weeks ago, I wrote about how important I believe it is to teach children to code. My students are still really enjoying the coding apps I introduced them to. In particular, it’s turned into a fantastic supplemental activity for a few of our kids that were craving a little more challenge. Honestly, I don’t know that I realized how much some of our students needed and wanted that challenge until last week when after particularly difficult task on Light Bot, one student turned to me and said with the biggest grin I’d ever seen on his face, “That was fun! Really hard, but fun!” He was as excited about the “Really hard” part as he was about the “fun” part. I think he’d been craving that kind of complex thinking for quite a while and neither of us had realized it. I could also, for the first time in 20+ years, appreciate his excitement first hand. Soon after publishing my most recent article about teaching children to code, I realized that I wanted to add a little authenticity to my assertion that learning to code is an important skill, poised to become the next essential form of literacy. I decided that I needed to learn to code myself.
It wasn’t long before I uncovered this organization:
Girl Develop It (GDI) is an organization dedicated to encouraging women in technology. They offer inexpensive programming classes for women at a variety of levels. They have chapters across the US, including one in the metropolis closest to me. As it turned out, my chapter of GDI was offering an Introduction to Programming in Ruby class in just a few short days. I signed up, and then panicked as I watched the other registrations come in. Some of the women signing up for my class were like me and had very little experience with programming. Others, were master developers that could already program in other languages and were just trying to broaden their skill base. Yikes! I was worried I was going to be in over my head! I wanted to be as strong as I possibly could be when I showed up to my class so I borrowed some programming books from my dad and jumped into a couple of free online learn to code resources. Fortunately, I needn’t have worried. The people at GDI were fantastic. They were welcoming and not at all concerned that I hadn’t written code from scratch since my eighth grade computer programming class in BASIC.
On the night of my first class, I drove the hour to the nearest metropolis. I’ll confess it was almost as much fun to be hanging out in the urban downtown shopping district as it was to be heading to my Ruby class. I mean, Ann Taylor Loft is right next door, and Nordstrom Rack is just down the street! The office space where my class was held was also hip and urban. I almost felt like I was on the set of some fancy TV show. As we got to work on our first night of class, I was thrilled to see that I was actually able to follow along and keep up. And, it was actually pretty fun! So fun, in fact, that I’m planning to keep learning. My four session Ruby class was a fantastic introduction, but coding is not a skill that’s acquired in a few night classes. I barely scratched the surface. I decided that programming is a skill that I want to master, so I’ve enrolled in one of the many paid “learn to code” websites. Here are a few that I checked out:
I took my first class with this organization and plan to stick with them. Online learning is great, but there’s no substitute for real life interactions. Some of the most important knowledge I gained was from side conversations with classmates, teaching assistants and instructors. Most chapters of GDI offer “Coding Coffees” where women get together to talk and code. I’m also planning to take more classes. HTML & CSS are currently on the top of my list.
This paid site offers access to a library of video based lessons and helps students build a portfolio. I just started an HTML/CSS class here and I love it. Membership is $29/month but they offer a free 14 day trial. A lot of sites teach you how to write code; this website goes one step further and immediately teaches you what you can do with the code that you write.
This is another site where students pay monthly for access to a whole library full of programming classes. They offer tracks of classes that progressively lead you through a series of courses. Update: Codeschool has recently partnered with Google and it’s Women TechMakers program to offer three free months of Codeschool to women who are interested in learning to code. See this article on the Code School blog for more information.
If you’re considering leaving teaching to become a web developer, this could be the website for you. You pay upfront for a series of classes that move you towards becoming a website designer or developer. They’re an ideal option for someone who is trying to work at one trade while learning another because they’re designed to be completed in just an hour each day. Skillcrush offers a free introductory class. It’s designed for beginners.
So I see this as a first installment in my journey to learn to code. I’ve got a solid start but a long, long way to go. The challenge will be to make the time. As I see it, I already have 3 jobs: mother, teacher, & blogger. Hopefully I can find time for just one more. Are there other teachers out there thinking of trying their hand at programming? I’d love to hear from you. How are you approaching your learning?