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!

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