Sunday, October 5, 2014

Audrey Learns to Code

I’m an online teacher for LearnQuebec, and I recently became a student in a classroom again, which hasn't happened in a long time. In my development as a teacher, I tend to spend a lot of time online, learning new things independently in a just-in-time fashion, but this post is about an instance in which that didn't work out, and I needed to be face-to-face with an instructor and peers. As usual, I learned way more than just what I set out to learn...

Audrey code

Until very recently, the only code I knew was Audrey code. For example, the first time I asked someone what “html” was, they answered me by saying “hyper text markup language.” I responded by blinking and saying thank you, which is Audrey code for “Now I have four more questions in addition to the one I just asked you.”

Probing further did not help. Every explanation seemed to make things worse, and intimidate me even more. Brow-furrowing, sighing, and wincing became part of my code. Nevertheless, I had a vague notion that it had something to do with the internet.

Coding? What is this coding?

Sometime later, I started seeing hashtags about coding on twitter, like #kidscancode, #codingforkids, and #coding. There was a lot of enthusiastic buzz from teachers about the many benefits of coding. Not only is it fun, addictive, & creative, but it improves understanding in math and languages as well. It was the creative part that interested me most!  I just wasn't sure of what type of coding everyone was talking about, or what exactly was being created. But I knew that before I tried to get my students to code, I needed to know how to do it myself - teaching usually works out better that way.

I decided to join and try to learn coding on my own.  I started with JavaScript, because I had heard it referenced while using my favourite software, geogebra. The lessons were easy enough to follow, and I made “progress” according to the site, but I still felt like I was in the dark as far as what I was creating. Where would I use this JavaScript interactive thingy? I was missing the big picture, and I just couldn't keep at it without that. I felt constantly distracted, even agitated by that.

Google Apps scripts

Another effort that seemed, at the time, to be unrelated to html and coding was that I tried to learn how to write google apps script. I use google forms a lot, and there were specific things I wanted to be able to do with the data that my students were entering on those google forms. Off I went to google, and entered their google apps script “tutorials”. The problem here was that each link lead to so many other links that I lost my way very quickly. Unlike my codeacademy experience,  I was clear on what I wanted to create, but the tutorials didn't seem organized in a user-friendly way. In fact, one of the links lead back to codeacademy, specifically to their JavaScript course, which I’d already tried. What this had to do with google apps script I didn't know, which added to my confusion.

Convergence at Ladies Learning Code

These mysteries were finally solved for me on Sept 27 at a workshop in Ottawa called Ladies Learning Code. A friend had happened to mention to me that Sept 27 was National Ladies Learn to Code Day all across Canada. LLC (@llcodedotcom) is a not-for-profit Canadian organization devoted to teaching code to anyone who wants to learn in a comfortable, friendly, collaborative environment. They were having an introductory one-day workshop in many cities across Canada on Sept 27, so off I went to register. Unfortunately, the Montreal one was already full, so I decided to go to the one in Ottawa. I was persistent, because I was really interested in not only the coding, but the people who were organizing this amazing event, for free, on their weekend. People are endlessly fascinating to me, especially people who are passionate and creative.

I was not disappointed, in any way! Everyone working at the LLC session was a volunteer – our instructor, Jessica Eldredge (@jessabean),  the mentors (satellite teachers, one for every 4 participants), and the students from U of O. And everyone was friendly. You could tell right away that they were there to have fun and to help people. My favourite kind of people! I had a very strong sense that web developers are highly creative people who love doing what they do. And they love teaching other people how to do it! As for the participants, most were young, but there were a few my age, one of which sat at my table – coincidence? Probably not.

I'm sitting just right of centre. Coding!
At last - the Big Picture

Within the first few minutes of the session, a lot of my previous confusion was cleared up by our instructor, Jessica Eldredge. She said that html was what created webpages, and that you could think of webpages as being in three layers, each one in a different type of code:
  1. The first is the content (text, pictures, links etc) which is created by the html.
  2. The second is the CSS, which is another language altogether, and which makes the content have a certain colour or style or placement on the webpage. In other words, it makes it look pretty.
  3. The third is the interactive elements, such as a gizmo on That’s where code like javascript comes in, and that’s where I had unwittingly started on my unsuccessful learning-to-code journey prior to this workshop. No wonder I had been confused – I had started with the last thing – javascript! Suddenly all the pieces fell into place for me. It felt like my mind was now truly open.

I really liked the way that the workshop was organized. It was kind of a mix of the flipped class and direct instruction. Jessica would spend a few minutes explaining something, then we would work for a while to complete the accompanying set of instructions, while getting lots of support from our “mentor.” Each group of four people had their own mentor. Ours was Gavin (@GavinNL), who was wonderful.  And he happens to be a math and science teacher! He was there in a heartbeat when we needed him, which was tremendously reassuring, but we also had the ability to move forward at our own pace as well, because we had already downloaded, prior to the workshop, all kinds of software and files, including all of Jessica’s slides and instructions. Hence the flipped element. I feel validated, because I use the flip in my own classes.

Audrey learned to code!

By lunchtime, I had made this:

Incredibly, I had written some html and css, and it had worked! We didn't get to the interactive stuff, but at least now I know what it is, what it's for, and where to go to continue to learn.

What else did I learn?
  • Learning really is social. It means so much to be able to turn to someone, for a reaction, for help, for reassurance, and to offer it to them. Humans need humans.
  • I like having the option to move ahead or go back as I wish. And at different times during the day, I did both. Although at around 2:30, my saturated mind ground to a complete halt.
  • That option to move at one's own pace is only truly available if the material given is well organized, easy to find, and contains good visuals and examples, which Jessica's did.
  • Hearing someone say something is way more powerful than reading it to yourself.
  • A webpage is a file! That blew my mind. To see my webpage, I double-clicked on a file with .html at the end. I don't know why that was so eye-opening for me, maybe because it made it all seem a lot less like magic and more like logic.
  • I need to have the big picture to learn some things. Otherwise, I'm constantly distracted and agitated.
  • Web developers are highly creative people who are passionate and love to teach other people how to do the same! I'm encouraging my own kids to learn, because they are very creative people too. So far no luck, after all, I'm their mom.
  • Finally, there are an awful lot of people out there who love to teach, and are really good at it, but very few of them do it for a living like I do. I'm lucky like that.
What's next?

So what am I going to do with this? Not sure yet - I had a vague notion that I would rebuild my own blog from scratch, but that seems like it might be a bit too much to start off with. I remember feeling this way when I started to learn geogebra  - I had no idea what to make with it, I just knew that it was really really cool. That's where I am now - any suggestions would be more than welcome! And that's not Audrey code for anything!


  1. Great work, Audrey. Coding is like solving a collection of creative logic puzzle. You'll be ready to make your own Wordpress site pretty soon. Cheers

    1. Thanks, Jordan. Wordpress is another thing that has eluded me, I hope you're right that I'll be able to tackle that too!

  2. You're WAY ahead of me, Audrey! (My code currently is; head nodding, proud smile cause I know you, but furrowed brow as I wonder where the comment I JUST wrote to you disappeared to. Tch!) So cool that you had the opportunity to experience the 'flip' from the other side. Teaching is extra special when it leads to learning and vs. vs.. The ways in which we are lucky just keep increasing. Keep your inspirations coming!

    1. Barb! That whole comment-losing thing happened even to me yesterday when I replied to Jordan's comment and *poof* it was gone. Thanks, blogspot. Anyway, what's extra special to me is when my friend reads and comments on my labour of love, my blog! Thanks, my friend!

  3. This is awesome (and I love that you include selfies in your blog posts, btw). My coding started vert similarly - I saw something and wanted to do it myself. Which meant learning to code. A good way to start is to design your own dot com landing page which points to your blog, etc. More straightforward that doing an entire blog (mine is, which will be getting a facelift in the very near future).

    I just wanted to throw my hat into the ring...any time you'd like pointers or suggestions, feel free to hit me up. I've gotten a lot of ad hoc help from people as I was learning, so I'm happy to share thoughts, help or suggestions at any time.

    1. Glad you like the selfies! I think I do it because I spend so much time not being f2f with people.

      I remember you tweeting a while ago that you were building your website, and you asked for feedback on different designs. That's when I realized just how customize-able websites could be - and I love making things look cool, so it really appealed to me.

      That's a great idea, the landing page, kind of like your own aboutme page, right? I think I can do that! Thanks Brian, for your comment and the idea!

  4. Audrey - this sounds so cool; I've always wanted to learn to code but had a horrible experience 8 million years ago in Intro to Computer Science and have shied away from it. I love the whole "Ladies Learn to Code" thing and that it was run/staffed by volunteers - sounds a little TMC! Thanks for sharing your experience. Maybe someone in New York will have the same brilliant idea....

    1. It was a lot like TMC, in fact, now that you mention it! This was a cross Canada initiative, and it's ongoing. If you ever get to Montreal we could go to a session together!