Why and How I Learned to Code

Why and How I Learned to Code

by Daniel J. VandeBunte

This is going to be a long post. This post will tell a story, a true story, about how I got to a point in my teaching career where learning how to code felt like an obligation. And ultimately how it went from feeling like an obligation to feeling like personal fulfillment. Hopefully, you will see some parallels between my story and your own and find encouragement as you continue on your journey of learning how to code…line by semi-colon terminated line.

The Early Years

When I was a child, maybe 7 or 8, my father left on a Saturday morning and did not come home for several hours. He did not tell anyone that he was leaving or why. But when he returned he had an Apple IIC. Our first computer.

The Apple IIC

The Apple IIC

After the Apple IIC my father switched to IBM and their family of clones. We went through a couple of those before I would graduate from high school.

And never during that time was I so enthralled by the power sitting on that computer desk that I thought it would relate much to my career choice. (I had chosen “math teacher” back in middle school so by the time I graduated from high school I already knew the career path I was on.) Not like it would have mattered much. My oldest brother spent most of his free time on the family computer. I would not have had an opportunity to use the computer even if I had the inclination to do so.

The College Years

Email. Netscape. ChainMail. Forwards. Movie scripts. Mathematica. Nothing really spectacular there.

My sophomore year I took a computer programming in C++ that was required for my secondary education mathematics major. The text book had the same name on it as my course schedule, Joel Adams. The professor literally wrote the book on C++. Seriously, search Amazon for “C++ Joel Adams.” To make matters worse, my oldest brother (yes, that one) had already gone through the department as a Computer Science major and left a pretty high bar behind him.

I recall very little about that class other than getting the highest grade in the class on a test for which I spent no time studying. I did not fare as well when I did study. Go figure. Perhaps that should have been a clue.

Teaching: The Early Years

The summer after my first year of teaching my new wife and I were walking through a Barnes and Nobel in Lansing, MI when I first saw the book that would ultimately make me a computer programmer, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating an HTML 4.0 Web Page.

My First Coding Book

My First Coding Book

My college years had managed to introduce me to the internet. And the idea of the internet fascinated me as a teacher. Making classroom information available to students, parents, and all other stake holders. Homework assignments, dates for tests and quizzes, class syllabus, etc. I was a teacher, what secrets did I have?

In the years that followed I had managed to find Front Page Express was already installed on my computer. That would have been nice to know early on, but I am glad that I had spent several months working with raw HTML code first. While FPE made the creation of pages and sites much easier, by working with code I knew how to manipulate things behind the scenes to make sure the code did what I wanted. It also taught me how to recognize why it wasn’t doing what I wanted.

Teaching: The Web Design Years

When I was first hired at the school I currently teach at, it was to teach Math and Web Design. That was in 2007 when Web Design classes were still fairly rare. I did not think that there was enough to Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) to teach over the course of two semesters so the first year I taught both HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). I didn’t actually know CSS at the time so I taught myself CSS while teaching my students HTML. HTML and CSS paved the way for JavaScript, and then PHP, and then MySQL. The students coded. They wrote the code, they tested the code, they debugged the code, they retested the code, they published the final product. That was the nature of the class.

And then I was no longer teaching Web Design because they needed me to teach more sections of Math.

The life of a teacher, right?

Teaching: The GAFE Years

Three years later, the year before the school I teach in became a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) school, I was using my personal Gmail account and student created Gmail accounts to take advantage of the collaboration GAFE affords schools, teachers, and students a year early. Once I discovered Google Apps Script, the gears started turning again.

Google Apps Script

Google Apps Script

A JavaScript based computer language that connects 11 different Google Apps. Apps the entire school district would have access to and be using. Coding was no longer just about sharing information. It was now about sharing information, creating functionality, creating work spaces, creating connections, and so much more.

Take a Google Doc and create an editable copy for each of your students before Google Classroom exists? Yes.

Have students automatically added to a Gmail contact list? Yes.

Have data for frequently filled out reports collected with a Form and a digital report generated from a template? Yes.

All those fancy add-ons you use with Google Docs, Sheets, and Forms? All the products of coding.

Looking Forward

For me, coding is mainly about solving problems. Which should probably not come as a big surprise. I am also a Math teacher. Here’s something I want to do. How can I make it happen? But we’re all problem solvers to some degree or another.¬†We have all had experiences with technology when it did not behave the way we wanted to. Coding gives us the power to control how certain technologies behave. And thanks to resources like teacherscancode.com, you’ll have some help along the way.

Can teachers code? Absolutely. Teachers can code.





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