Thursday, May 7, 2015

Gearing For Kids? A "Larsen Twins" Update

First off, I wanted to say thank you to "Women Testers" for including a guest article that Amber and I wrote together. It was about how she prefers to work with me when it comes to learning about programming and testing. If you would like to check that article out, you can download the latest edition of “Women Testers” and look for "Show the Way, Then Get Out of the Way”.

With this article in mind, I offer the following update. Since I want to encourage Amber to write more and share her own thoughts and ideas, we will continue with writing joint blog posts like this one under the tag “Larsen Twins” (because silly and a little fun and why not ;)?).

Amber and I have been looking through a number of books and online materials to help her understand coding and testing concepts. One of the areas that I thought would be tricky to explain or focus on would be the ideas behind computation. A book that I recently reviewed and that I found helpful is called “Lauren Ipsum”, and I personally thought it was cute and  engaging in explaining topics I’d learned the hard way. I was excited to have Amber read this book and tell me what she thought of it.

“It was a fun and cute story, and I get what they are trying to do. By having Lauren help a turtle move in certain directions, it focuses on showing how instructions are executed.”

Ok, good so far.

“However, I kept finding myself waiting for the payoff… what’s the point of this?”


“I think younger kids would think this is great. This might be a really good book for someone in fourth or fifth grade, but I was getting impatient as I was reading through it. Maybe I’ll feel different when I have tried some more of the ideas out.”


Seeing as I have been revamping the SummerQAmp materials, I have been trying to think how I could make it more fun, more relatable, and help explain some of the ideas in a less wonky way to kids. Amber just gave me an interesting piece of reality to consider. Many kids my daughter’s age have been interacting with technology their whole lives. As such, they have become attuned to getting the information they need quickly and directly. The idea of a story to give them the ideas and concepts doesn’t really appeal to her; she wants the straight stuff.

“It may just be me, but I think I do better when I am shown an idea, and then given some ways to play with it and figure it out. I will admit, I thought the chapter on recursion was cute, and that helped me understand the idea a bit, but I still don’t feel like I fully ‘get it’. I’ll have to actually use it to see it in action to really feel like I understand it”.

After pondering this for awhile, I remembered I had another book in my Tsundoku pile;  “Understanding Computation” by Tom Stuart.

In the preface, it says the following:

"This book is for programmers who are curious about programming languages and the theory of computation, especially those who don’t have a formal background in mathematics or computer science. If you’re interested in the mind-expanding parts of computer science that deal with programs, languages, and machines, but are discouraged by the mathematical language that’s often used to explain them, this book is for you. Instead of complex notation we’ll use working code to illustrate theoretical ideas and turn them into interactive experiments that you can explore at your own pace.”

Now that sounds promising! I think this just moved its way to the top of my pile :).

Amber is an excellent case study for my own ideas about teaching and how to teach, because she throws me curveballs. For a girl that loves “kawaii”, the cute and entertaining in her everyday life, she can be decidedly “hard boiled” in her other pursuits. Perhaps David Grohl of the Foo Fighters sums it up best… “don’t bore us, get to the chorus”. We’ll see if Understanding Computation will help us do that. More to come, stay tuned :).
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