March 18, 2021

Virtual Classrooms are Here To Stay. A Hatch Coding Coach Perspective

We sat down with Brenda, a Hatch Coding coach, who talked about the Virtual Classroom and shared interesting stories about coding, education and working on a team.

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We sat down with Brenda, a Hatch Coding coach, who talked about the Virtual Classroom and shared interesting stories about coding, education and working on a team.

Tell us how you first got introduced to coding.

One day at the end of grade 12 I was sitting in the computer lab and I thought: “I want to make programs.” So I did. I was originally aiming to do a double-major, but I realized I preferred working over studying, so I finished with just one degree and started teaching what I’d learned.

Tell us a little bit about your professional and educational experiences.

I took a Computer Science course in grade 11 and we learned Visual Basics C++. I have been teaching for a little over 3 years at Hatch. Since October 2017.

What is your teaching philosophy?

I’ve always been a music kid, ever since preschool. I learned piano, clarinet, violin, flute, guitar, and voice, in that order. I haven’t kept up practice, so all I can really do is sing and play piano. I did my degree in Music Composition, and all my supplementary courses were devoted to computer science. I’ve always loved helping people, so I ended up tutoring a lot of my friends in high school, and covering private music lessons for my mom, who was a music teacher for most of my childhood. Besides tutoring, most of my professional experience has been in events. I worked at a non-profit arts company called Monstrartity for three summers in university, and during the school year, I was a sort of general labourer for special events the school put on. Those jobs combined gave me experience in a lot of different aspects of event production, from booking and scheduling to working with audio-visual technology, to unloading trucks and inventory management.One of my favourite parts of events is setting up and striking portable outdoor stages. The stage unfolds from a huge trailer on wheels, and more trucks are loaded in that have dozens and dozens of road cases in them. Usually, we would use a forklift or a metal bridge from the truck to the stage to move them around. I loved running around under the stage to find things and run cables. It’s definitely not a job for people who don’t like to get their hands dirty, but it’s fun to work outside and see it all come together.

What is your teaching philosophy?

This is a no-brainer, but every person I’ve ever taught has been completely unique. They each have different communication styles and different techniques that work well with them. Because of that, I think it’s really impossible to be a perfect teacher. There’s no way anybody’s going to psychically know what’s best for each student.

So the most important thing is to listen to them. I think society tends to undervalue kids’ thoughts, but they’re real people with valid experiences. I think it’s important to understand each student on a personal level and to make sure they know that I care about them, that I want them to do well, and that I acknowledge their thoughts and feelings as significant. Maybe not always accurate or helpful, but definitely significant.One way this expresses itself in my teaching is that I always try to use plain language. I try to get to the heart of the concept I’m explaining and what it does, and then I try to think of the phrasing that will have the most meaning to my student. One thing that kids often have a hard time with when they’re starting is the concept of a “variable.” A variable is basically a nickname for a piece of information. For example, my grandma’s name is “Joan” (and I love her very much). Now that I’ve told you that, I can drop “Joan” into a conversation, and you’ll know who i’m talking about.

But before I told you about her, you might get confused about who I mean. In terms of JavaScript, before we can use a nickname for information, we have to introduce it to the computer first with the word “var”. The keyword “var” tells the computer that we’re about to tell it a new name that it’s never heard before. For example, “var Joan = “my grandma””. Then, after we used the word “var”, we don’t have to use it anymore when we use the variable called “Joan,” because the computer already met her.

How long have you been teaching Hatch’s Virtual Classroom and can you share with us how a typical class is run?

I’ve been teaching the Virtual Classroom since the end of April. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Virtual Classroom is an hour-long coding session that anyone is free to attend, regardless of skill level. Because of that, we get a lot of different kids with different ages, personalities, and areas of interest. It’s not easy to balance such a diverse group, so I listen carefully to what they want to learn, and I encourage everyone to add their voices to the conversation. Usually, each class begins with a chat about how everyone’s day is going, and anything that’s interesting to them at the moment. This helps them create and maintain bonds with each other, and it also gives late students a chance to log in without missing any lessons. Then I ask the class what they’ve been working on, and if there’s anything in particular they need help with. Usually someone is stuck on a project, and we spend some time as a class helping to clarify and improve their code.In my spare time, I think about surprises I can bring into class to make their learning more interesting. Once I found a video game that used JavaScript to solve puzzles. I tried making them a coding board game, but they weren’t as interested in that. What they do enjoy are on-the-spot, quick coding challenges (e.g. draw me a grid as fast as you can) and kahoots. They are obsessed with doing kahoots. So much so that Tuesday has been “quiz day” since the middle of July.

What’s your favourite part about teaching Hatch’s Virtual Classroom?

The kids are just as kind to me as they are to each other. I like trying new things with them to see their reactions. Once I wore purple lipstick and half the class was shocked - they wanted to know what was wrong with my lips, or if their cameras were broken. If I wear eye makeup, the girls always comment on it. I really enjoy that it’s an environment where they feel comfortable being excited over things, so I love asking them how their days were and what things they want to share with me.

Do you have any of your own projects that you’ve built that are now up on Hatch Studio?

The first one I made is called “Basic Sorting.” I made it to be a simple way to teach kids how to use a conditional statement inside a loop. In simple terms, that just means to sort a collection of things. The conditional statement evaluates the data - it compares it to a standard, such as “is this number odd?”, and then treats it accordingly. The loop makes sure each item gets sorted, instead of just the first one in the list.

The other project I’m really proud of is called “Towers of Hanoi”. It’s not an original concept, but I coded it because I noticed we had no projects that teach abstract data types. It’s a high-level concept, which is probably why it’s underrepresented on our site. The classic “Towers of Hanoi” game was the best way I could think of to visually demonstrate the concept of a Stack. A Stack is a way of holding on to information. It’s like a stack of dishes - once you put something on the stack, you can’t access anything underneath it until you take that thing back off the top.

I also made a game for the Hatch Marketplace. It’s not totally polished up yet, but it’s still fun to play. It’s based on the classic MSDOS game Chip’s Challenge. It demonstrates how to work with displays that are bigger than the canvas.

You’ll notice Dylan is credited in the showcase. He helped with the doors. It’s nice to have a buddy on the team.

Hatch Coding educates the well-rounded programmer, teaching the ability to read, write and modify real-world computer code - which are transferable lifelong skills. Beyond a coding program - it’s an online community where your kids can learn more about themselves and the opportunities for their future.


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