In January, Mike Bloomberg decided he was going to start coding via the lessons on Codecademy. I didn’t see his resolution at the time but had started to see Codecademy appear more frequently in my Twitter timeline. I visited the site and signed up. I was intrigued by the lessons and the prospect of having access to the language that forms the foundation for a significant part of the web and therefore, our everyday lives.
But, why would the mayor of New York City want to learn to code? Was he like me, just curious? Did he merely want to take a peek into the world of programming? Was he just looking for something to do in his spare time? Pondering jobs for after his political career ends? I’m not sure.
Bloomberg’s tweet and the increase in sites and organizations like Codecademy and Chicago’s Code Academy (confusing, I know) have opened a debate about this “delivery of coding to the masses”. The discussion has not specifically focused on teachers but about non-programmers in general. Should the regular everyday Facebook/email user learn to code? If yes, why? Numerous bloggers and programmers have offered their different perspectives.
On one side, there are applications such as WordPress, Weebly, Tumblr and many more which allow you to manage web content without even knowing even the most common HTML tag. As with many other tasks in life, the essential question arises, “Is it worth my time?“
So sure, maybe everyone doesn’t need to be a programmer (part of me wonders if the programmers are just worried about job security). On the other side, I think there are many potential benefits of learning to code/program. I decided to jump in for a swim and take a few laps around the pool with the Mayor.
But in January, due to a staffing change at my school, I was moved from my regular position of teaching ESL for grades K-8 to a first grade classroom. That awesome group of 6 year olds took immediate precedence and the coding was put on the shelf for a few months while we explored the Amazon rainforest via Google street maps (well, trail maps really), wrote poems in English and Spanish, and worked with three dimensional shapes.
Now, that not-so-cool New Jersey summer breeze has blown the dust off the coding whim and I have returned to the water and have waded waist deep into the HTML pond. Here is some data:
- 51 completed exercises on Codecademy
- 3 PDFs about HTML in my Upad app (excellent iPad app for managing & annotating PDFs)
- 2 Books (more about these later)
- 5 free HTML editors downloaded (more later also)
Looking at this list forces me to return to the question, “Is it worth my time?“ The list causes me to raise a skeptical eyebrow and wonder, “Why should an ESL teacher learn HTML?”
This internal debate about the value of coding led me to my personal reasons for learning HTML:
- I believe the best educational technology will come from teacher and developers working together or a perhaps even better, a teacher who codes. If teachers understand more about coding and coders understand more about teaching and learning, that mutual ground will be fertile, growing valuable new ideas.
- HTML is a language. Language learning is an intellectual challenge. It creates new pathways in the brain and offers you insights into new systems. A few exercises into the Codecademy lessons, I became a bit frustrated and it reminded me of trying to learn basic Chinese and the sentiment often expressed by my ESL students. It begins…”This doesn’t make sense. Why don’t they just….” Learning a new system is a challenge because you must figure out new ways of navigating and creating. At the same time, learners are always comparing and contrasting that new data in terms of the old, making connections and constructing knowledge. It is a creative scientific process and in a sense like a puzzle.
- I may not end up being a web designer for my next career, but for now it is an interesting hobby, one that could benefit teachers and students. An example is Andrew Stillman’s script for enhancing a Google doc for showing student progress.
Will it be worth my time?