From Computer Programmer to Computer Teacher
When I began working at Lockheed Missiles and Space Company as a computer programmer, I thought I had it all: I was good at my job, there were so many new things to learn, I was paid well and living in California. What more could I ask for? Tens years later, I started feeling like I wanted to do more. After a bit of soul searching and many college classes later, I earned my teaching certificate and started teaching. It’s been a very long road but, I can honestly say that I am still passionate about teaching and passionate about technology. Teaching computer programming is the best job in the world.
I put my heart and soul into my teaching career and over the years, I developed a strong sense of what it takes to be a good programming teacher. In my opinion, the most important quality is that my students know I care about them. My best teaching happens when I have a special bond with a student. It isn’t about disseminating information or having all the right answers. It’s about connecting and communicating. I take time to get to know students. I genuinely care that they are learning how to program and will do everything in my power to help them.
Not all my students will become computer programmers but, there is still a lot of value in what I am teaching. All students will gain computer skills, learn how to manage their time, and be creative. They will learn how to be persistent through challenging assignments and be able to follow through to complete a project. They will learn how to communicate with fellow classmates and work in a team. All these skills are valuable in any job they choose.
For those students who will become programmers, I concentrate my lessons on the fundamentals of computer programming. I don’t know what programming language they will need to know in the future but all languages have common structures such as variable assignments, conditionals and looping. My overall goal is to give students the tools they need to create computer programs. I want them to become creators and innovators.
I believe that students can only learn how to program if they are actively working with the material. Memorizing syntax does not teach them how to write code. It’s like giving a student a paintbrush and expecting them to paint a picture. My assignments are project based which allows students to put a little of themselves into their work. I encourage them to try new things and research new ways of doing things. My favorite thing to hear from my students is, “How do I……..?” Projects are a little more work for me than grading multiple choice assessments but I believe in giving formative feedback so students can grow in their understanding.
In my classroom, I provide several ways for students to learn and appreciate computer programming. I want my students to see that there is more to writing code than building applications that display results on a computer screen. I have a programmable robot in my classroom called the NAO robot. Robotic programming is writing code or “behaviors” that are triggered when the robot receives a signal from one of it’s sensors. I have Lego Mindstorms and Raspberry Pi’s and Arduino boards. And I am constantly searching for new and fun technologies to teach with and for students to learn. All of these “fun” technologies capture student’s attention and they provide activities for students who finish their work faster than their classmates. It has become a valuable classroom management tool.
Part of what makes me a good programming teacher is that I have real world experience in developing complicated software systems. I am able to relate what students are learning to what happens in a real development project. My past programming experiences provide me with a deeper understanding of computer programming.
I may have had some successes at teaching computer programming. But, I’ll never stop growing and striving to make things better. My Personal Learning Network is there to help me when I have questions. I have a library of books to read. And, I will always adjust my teaching with every success and failure I have in the classroom. I’m a life long learner.
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