Teaching the Universal Language

How did you first discover Codecademy?

I came upon Codecademy around December of last year, when the Code Year was being advertised. I’d been doing some low-level Google Apps scripting and a bit of HTML maintenance on our school webpage, and was looking for something to give me more coding practice. Once I made an account and started playing around, I never looked back.

What was the first big thing you built with your new coding skills?

The larger project was the automatic emailer to remind faculty when they had a certain duty to perform. At the beginning of the year, we make a spreadsheet with names, email addresses, and duty dates, and the script runs once each day at 2pm to send an email reminder to faculty who have the duty the following morning. We can swap around names in the spreadsheet very easily without breaking the script, so it’s perfect (and free!).

How did the other teachers react to this?

Teachers enjoyed receiving email receipts and reminders, but I don’t think they knew that a simple script did the work for me. In fact, some may still think that I manually send the email out each day. I expect that more faculty, though, will become aware of the power of scripting and the usefulness of code this year.

Do you see any parallels between teaching Latin and code to pupils?

Lots of parallels! Communicating via language involves breaking the bigger idea you’re trying to send into smaller chunks following rules that govern how the individual components are put together. And while it may technically be correct to say something one way, the artistic qualities of style and “readability” are very important. We like language to be simple and “pretty”, just like our code.

Latin is an inflected language that puts certain kinds of “endings” onto words to give them a specific function, e.g. adding an “accusative” marker to a noun to make it the direct object of a sentence. That’s not unlike using data structures and functions with code to manipulate information in a usable way and interact with a user or group of users.

When coding, we construct functions to manipulate information, but when reading Latin (or using any language, for that matter), we’re deconstructing the Latin “code” to build meaning much like a compiler. And it’s no coincidence that Latin students tend to be interested in programming!

What are your hints for someone who’d like to start either learning or teaching code in educational setting?

I’ve found it helpful to carve out some time to devote to working on coding. Even if it’s only a few minutes every few days, it’s been helpful for me to find regular time to practice (just like with any language). I usually work on coding skills in the morning over coffee, once I arrive to campus in the morning as a way to get started with the day. It’s proven to be my favorite part of the day, too!

In my experience, the coding community is very accepting and helpful, so to learn coding, I say just get out there, start writing code and ask questions when you have them. Within an educational setting, it can be fun to identify problems to solve with code that can be worked on in groups. Once you have some basic skills in your command, work on building something with students. Codecademy has a lot of great projects to help get you started.