Back to work

I’ve had a lovely trip to visit family, with loads of relaxation and card-playing and good food.  Now I’m all refreshed and ready to jump back into my maker summer fun.

Today I decided to get back into working with Scratch, this time using a book called Learn to Program with Scratch by Majed Marji.  I’m only halfway through Chapter 2, but have already learned some very nifty things that I wish I knew earlier!  I could have shaved a few hours off my recent 14-hour programming session!  But actually, I am glad that I started by playing and poking around without a text–I’m getting more out of the book now than I would have, and it was a lot of fun to explore on my own with no idea what I was doing.  That said, I am now ready for some instruction, and this book is just right for me so far.

I read something recently (sadly, I can’t remember what or where) about how people learn best if they are first allowed to just play around and explore on their own, and then given formal instruction, as opposed to the reverse.  It was an article arguing against flipped classrooms, if I recall correctly.  I don’t know what all the research says, but my experience with Scratch thus far would support that idea.  I don’t want NO instruction, but I feel far more equipped to soak in and process what the text is saying, having already played around and learned some things via trial and error.  It’s sort of like I have learned, on my own, the basic structure and language of Scratch, and now the book is helping me understand more about what is underneath that basic structure and learn some of the nuances of the language.  (I’m not confident in that metaphor, but it will do for now.)  I think if I had started with the book, I would be far more likely to be bored, because it is walking me through specific exercises/projects.  Since I already have a sense of Scratch and what I was trying to do before, the lens through which I see those exercises is very different.  I keep thinking, “oh, that would have made X work!” or, “that’s kind of like what I did when I did Y, but more efficient,” or, “if I did that on my project, it would make Z work so much better.”  I obviously can’t know how I would feel about the book or the exercises if I went into them with no prior experience, but I suspect it would be very different, significantly less enjoyable.  This is not a complaint about the book, which I think is excellent, but more an observation about the process of learning.  I am far more motivated to read the textbook after having struggled through the process of creating a few challenging (to me, at least!) projects without a text.

I want to think more about this.  I think frustration and getting things wrong a bunch of times before you get them right is not only important to experience in education because it’s how life is, but also because it’s at least part of what ultimately makes the whole thing FUN.  I am remembering a moment where my daughter, after months and months of being physically capable of doing a backbend without a spot but too scared to do it without an arm there “just in case,” finally did it on her own.  She was as happy in that moment as I had ever seen her, and it struck me–she was so happy because it had been so hard.  Those two things were connected.

At the same time, we don’t want to all be reinventing the wheel every day because the challenge is educational or fun.  There is some balance between figuring things out on your own (or with peers) and using the knowledge that is available to you out in the world.  Using existing knowledge means we can then build on it faster.  There is nothing inherently good or noble about starting from scratch.

I’m just thinking out loud here.  I am wondering where the balance is.

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