Lessons from learning coding with my students

Last Sunday, I took part in an introductory workshop on coding with some of my students from this year’s FT PGDP group. Why did I sign up for this workshop, and why did I invite my students to come along? Let me take the second question first.

I had long thought that it would be fun if I could be my students’ classmate by learning something new together. If I couldn’t catch up, they would be willing to help me. At the very least, it would make me feel younger.

Why coding? Some time ago, I learnt that coding would be part of the new STEM curriculum. Of course, it didn’t relate to my work immediately, but I noticed on FB that some former students were training their primary students how to do coding, and even entering their students for coding competition. Then I began to wonder: “Am I lagging far behind in terms of general knowledge?”

When I found out about the free introductory workshops run by An Hour of Code Hong Kong, I decided to sign up and invite my fulltime students to join me. As new teachers in the upcoming academic year, they had nothing to do in the summer yet, and also as newbies to the teaching profession, they would be eager to learn anything.

I also had two other reasons for taking part in the workshop. First, I wanted to experience again how learners might feel when they learnt something totally new or unfamiliar. Would they panic? Would they have anxiety about their ability to catch up? Would they worry about looking dumb to others? Very often, when we’re working within the domain that we’re good at, we may forget, after some time, that what comes across as very easy or obvious to us can be complicated or unclear to others. Throwing ourselves into a completely new area may remind us of the mental struggles that our students are facing. It may even remind us to be humble!

Second, it was another chance for me, as a learner, to observe how the workshop instructor designed and ran the event. In what ways has he/she done well? Where has he/she stumbled? What is inspiring, and what is unclear? These are good reminders to me when I design and conduct my own classes.

Overall, it was a meaningful experience. Not only did I get to become my students’ classmates, and know something about coding, I also witnessed a scene of what learning in the 21st century should be like. The workshop was attended by people of all ages, and from all walks of life. Many parents were there, learning coding with their own children. The youngest participant was 5 years old and he was probably more proficient in coding than anyone else in the room but it didn’t matter. I was probably the oldest man in the room, and it didn’t matter, either. This is what lifelong learning should be like in the 21st century. Should we still be obsessed with ‘winning the race at the starting line’? Learning should be for life, and for everybody!

Affirmations by teachers

暑假和學生敘舊快一個月了,這一個月中,學生對教學的反思中令我最觸動的兩點是:


(1) “工作中最大的滿足感,是看見學生學得好,學得有興趣。”
(2) “… 年過去了,我相信我的心沒有變。”

(1) 顯示他們仍堅持教學的目的,沒有迷失。(2) 就是「毋忘初衷」的意思吧!

很幸運我教過這些學生,教育界有這些教師。

Gropers as suitors

So, these hilarious translations are REAL! In the past, when I saw pictures of comical English signs in China posted on the Web, I sometimes thought those pictures might be fakes.

A former student sent me a picture of the following signs which she spotted in a recent trip to Dongguan. Now, I’m convinced those crazy English signs did exist.

I tried translating some of the Chinese dish names in the picture with Google Translate and Baidu Translate, which did not return the exact English translations that we’re seeing. This suggests the translator did not fully rely on machine translation, and he/she did exercise his/her own translation judgments. Yet, ……

BTW, for 咸豬手, Google Translate returned “Groping”, which is close to the Cantonese slang meaning, though I don’t understand why Google Translate does not give us the literal translation. Baidu Translate also gives “Groping”, but the translator for the dish name changed it to the more literary “Suitor”. So, now, ‘gropers’ are elevated to ‘suitors’. Interesting, eh?

suitors & other dish names in Dongguan

Weniger, aber besser

This is a German expression which I came across while reading “Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less”, and which I loved immediately. It means (according to the writer): LESS, BUT BETTER.0805 less but better

You will quickly tell what I’m alluding to if you’ve been following my posts lately. Many people have blindly bought into ‘The more, the better’ mentality in many areas of life, not to mention education. So, if we find that students are not doing well on a grammar point, for instance, we give them more exercises, more worksheets ……Very often, these additional exercises are simply mechanical drills which students rush through mindlessly, with the result that they still don’t do well on the grammar point. And our reaction? “Let’s give them even more worksheets and exercises …..”

What is the sensible solution? Weniger aber besser.

Of course, if we provide students with better work instead of more work, or serve them with better teaching, we need to do more thinking. But doesn’t ‘do more thinking’ make us more professional, and keep up our zest for teaching!

One parent bought four thousand dollars’ worth of workbooks of supplementary exercises from the recent Book Fair for her child to plough through in the summer holiday. I have a lot of sympathy with this poor kid. Summer holiday for the kid?

Education for all

陳荭校長在今天的晴報專欄解釋為何當年辭去校長職位:“不是因某校某人或某件特別的事情,而是年復一年地看到無數貧困、學習能力又弱的學生,備受忽略甚或犧牲,使我無法再忍受整體的教育現實和自己的教育理想的巨大反差。”

我記起幾天前在台北孔廟參觀,入口處張貼了一些孔子的主張,最令我感慨的就是這句說話;孔子在二千多年前,在當時的社會背景下,有這樣的識見,多麼難得;二千多年後的今天,我們的教育卻只顧利用競爭去製造幾個“勝利者”……。陳葒校長說到的教育理想,今天還有多少人理會?

0803  teach all kids

Good parenting

Katy 是15-16我FT PGDP英文組的組長,她是一個很出色的學生,深得組員愛戴。我記得有一次在閒談中,說到很想認識她的父母,請教他們如何教出這麼出色的女兒,這對其他父母會有啟示。Katy昨天看了晴報一篇虎爸虎媽如何因過份催谷子女,令他們反而變得全無學習動機後,在FB上分享了她母親如何教導她, 這篇分享概括地解答了我的問題。在她母親既關心又給予空間的氛圍下,今天的 Katy 勤力盡責,獨立自信,有領導才能,同時又親切友善,關心別人,對學生有愛心。又喜歡學習,不斷充實自己,在二十一世紀,我們需要為學生培養的正是這樣的氣質,而不是催谷孩子贏在起跑線。Katy 成長的經驗,值得那些終日神經兮兮的家長參考。

以下是Katy述說她的成長經驗:

“眼見現在真的很多小朋友和青少年活得不快樂及漫無目的,缺乏自信,實在覺得惋惜。我還未做人母親,可能我真的無法明白父母愛子女心切。我的父母從來沒有當過怪獸。當然媽媽有曾經表示擔心我的學業,擔心我閒時到哪兒去,擔心我結識什麼朋友等。但在我記憶當中,她很少把這份擔心過於表露出來,我都是在我長大後從她的朋友口中或她自己的憶述中才知道她那時候有多麼的緊張。

自小四起,媽媽已沒有再幫我檢查家課,沒有幫我溫習,甚至很少過問我溫習的進度。認識我的老師和朋友都知道我不是成績卓越,初中成績甚至處於下游,自己亦擔心過會否留班。但媽媽沒有因此迫我溫習或上補習班,只是鼓勵我可以做得更好。

正因她給我空間,讓我很自然學會了獨立,以及為自己的決定承擔後果。

當然我不會自誇今天我很成功,但我活得有自信,失敗後不怕再嘗試。縱使我不是聰明過人,但有一顆願意繼續學習的心。這一切都是因為栽培我的人所給我的。”