A letter of encouragement from someone who’s been there before

Welcome :slight_smile: I’m sharing a letter from Dr. Em, an incredible computer science education advocate that’s helped us a lot through the years. She wrote this for an early group of Vidcode Professional Development attendees, but I think it applies universally :sparkling_heart:

Hello. It’s nice to meet you. I’m really glad you’re trying out Computer Science. The prospect may scare you, and that’s ok. That’s why Vidcode has dedicated years to making coding as engaging and accessible as possible to all learners. And it’s also why I’m here with some advice for teachers.

Start with a growth mindset.
In the immortal words of April Murillo, aged 11, “Coding isn’t hard, it’s just a lot.”

And if April can do it, so can you. You’ve already taken the most important step: you’re trying. If your students can see you learning something new at your age, they will grow into lifelong learners themselves.

Read the directions.
Practice what you preach, Teach! Read the whole step before changing your code. Read it again. Make sure you understand it. The things you actually have to do are in purple. Make sure you’ve done it properly and checked your work before moving on to the next step!

Mistakes show you’re trying.
Take your code one line at a time. Test it. Make sure it does exactly what you want it to do. As soon as something breaks, stop. Ask for help. Show your class your mistake. Get them to solve it. Celebrate when you’ve squashed that bug. Debugging is a legitimate use of learning time. Remember, we care more about the process than the product. Or to quote Miley Cyrus, “Ain’t about how fast I get there. Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the climb.”

Anyone can be an expert.
Even kids. Kids have the luxury of time. They’ve probably messed around with stuff like this way more than you have, which means they made more mistakes, and therefore they have more experience. Learn from them. Let them help you. They will be proud of themselves. They may even work harder so they can show you up again in the future.

Stay on-task.
At some point, all students will have to try out all the different videos, filters, and graphics. They will even legitimately have to search for images on the internet or choose emojis. But draw the line. “You have two minutes to choose, or else you have to use the dog.” A good rule of thumb (or heuristic) is that as you make your rounds, you shouldn’t see them off Vidcode twice in a row. You can always check the step number at the top of their screen to see if they’re falling behind the rest.

Go back.
Program not working? Don’t know why? Start over! There’s no shame in starting from the beginning. There’s even an old programmer adage that it’s good luck to accidentally delete your code. You won’t have to make the same mistakes again, and it will end up better.

Copy your code.
Let’s say you look at a problem and think, “I’ve solved this before.” Don’t waste your time solving it again! Go back to your old project and make a copy! There is sufficient value in identifying and adapting reusable code that it’s inefficient to keep typing everything from scratch.

We’re stronger together.
At some point, a student will call you over for help. You will stare at the screen. It’s not working, but you have no idea why. You try everything you can think of, but nothing helps. You start to panic.

What are you, some kind of superhero? Give yourself a break! I have a PhD in CS and this happens to me every day. Call another kid over and have them work on it together. Project it up on the screen and have the class shout out possible solutions. Worst case scenario, just delete stuff until it works. It’s probably something dumb and impossible to see, like they used double quotes on one side and two single quotes on the other. And if they have to start over, remind them of Miley Cyrus.

You’ve got this.
You really do. I have faith in you.

Happy coding! Dr. Em

1 Like

So many of these tips, especially the ones on approaching setbacks or errors in code, are great for professional coders and newbies alike. Take this advice to heart.

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