Python – I have survived!

At the beginning of February I enrolled in the University of Canterbury’s first year paper – COCS121, Introduction to Programming (using Python). I decided to take the plunge as in our Year 12 Digital Technology class we are going to be teaching Python in Term 3 and I have never done any programming whatsoever!!

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I decided I needed a course where I would have deadlines that had to be met. If I had just used an online resource like codeacademy, it would have been too easy to not to do it. Also, I like to interact with others and with the UC course we would have a tutor and tutorials plus able to use forums to talk with other students.

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Tim Bell and his Computer Science department at UC are working hard to support digital technologies teachers and they offered this course as an online option for teachers. (UC also paid the cost of the paper!) Twelve started at the beginning of the year and five of us made it to the final (written) exam.

It was really full on and hard work. I had thought it would be maybe 5 hours extra work a week but for me it was probably more like 10 to 15. With having no background in programming I had to find the time to watch all the lectures, do all the labs and complete all the assignments.

I think the only reason I was able to finish the course was all the support I got. From my partner (lifesaver!), from Jack Morgan our online tutor and from Tim Harford – my DT colleague at school and I also connected in with the UC Computer Chicks Club. We had online tutorials two times a week with Jack, who was great, patient and really good at helping me solve problems. Tim was fab, he sat with me most Tuesday mornings before school so I could bounce ideas and questions off him and talk about what was working and what wasn’t in the programs I was writing. I know I would not have been able to finish this course if I didn’t have all of this help.

Positives out of this (besides completing the course and getting a good grade) are that besides the stress I really enjoyed it. It was exciting and interesting being a student again, it has made me think about my teaching and the students in my class. It has made me think about having extrinsic motivations –  deadlines, grades etc – credits. However, it would be interesting if I was a student in an environment where learning was the final goal – not completing a course. In such an environment I may have made a program that I wanted to, rather then ones about words and word counts!

Even though I did enjoy the whole course and was really excited when I got things to work, I think it would have been better if the assessments were interesting. Or perhaps does there need to be a set formula when teaching the basics of programming? And when teaching such a large group? Something to think about and explore, particularly when we are just about to start teaching Y12 students at an all girls’ school.

Another thing that would have been good would have been working collaboratively. However, again with the set up of a first year uni paper, perahps this would be too hard, as assessments are individual so how can you be collaborative? Perhaps this is something that occurs later on in a university setting. I would like to think about how we could make programming collaborative in NCEA but again have the hurdle of assessments needs to be jumped over. Is anyway out there doing collaborative programming with NCEA assessments?

I have now ticked off part of one of my goals – Goal 3: learn Python so can teach effectively and engage students in this learning area – I have done the learning bit! I hope I can do the next part! Who else uses Python in NCEA for the programming / planning standards? How do you go about teaching it?

Now that I have had the time to process and reflect on the course (and get over illness following the course!) I can see that taking on this learning was a mammoth task while teaching full time! I recently joined a group on Google+ called Code Club for Teachers and was looking at the activities that people were completing and posted a question “How do you all find the time?”. I had a think about this yesterday and decided that I used up all my spare time (and energy) for the whole year in the first half of this year completing COCS 121! So, I’m going to take a breather for the rest of the year and not run head first into doing extra things – even if they look like lots of fun and could be useful!

So, what do you think about the questions I have formulated in this post – does there need to be set formula when teaching the basics of programming? Does it make it easier when teaching a large group? Can we introduce collaborative work in NCEA with programming? Are you getting students to work collaboratively? Are you teaching Python? How are you teaching it? Or are you are teaching another programming language? If so, what language and how is it going?

Github, html, css – starting out!

Early this year I was introduced to Github at the RailsGirlsWgtn Weekend back in March. Over the weekend there was the chance to create your own Ruby on Rails app, using Github and other sites to get it working. I must admit it was all a bit of a mystery to me and I doubt I could go back and recreate any of it, including the command lines to get stuff onto Github.

Since then I have learnt quite a bit more about programming (see posts about Python) and have developed my knowledge of HTML / CSS. For our Y12 Digital Technology class this year we have done quite a bit of website stuff and I have learnt more about using divs for layouts and cool sytling in CSS and my skills and confidence have improved.

Not long ago I came across Alyx Gillett’s website, which I think has a really cool and simple layout and design. So I started to look into creating one for myself. I looked at what hers is made in, which is Looks cool but you have to pay after a free 14 day trial and it gives a bunch of stuff but nothing I think I need at the moment. And the  i had a brainwave, as I am a DT teacher wouldn’t it be cool if I made my own site completely from scratch. So I started have a play around with some ideas, look at some sites that had layouts I liked. This one provides the HTML & CSS – I started playing around with the Two column fixed width example and the One column fixed width layout.


After playing for a bit I got busy with other things until just the last few days. I decided I wanted to have a crack again and also thought it was about time I started a wee project of my own. I thought creating my own site and getting it up online would be a good place to start plus it is a chance for me to really embed my own learning and think about how I can improve my own teaching of HTML & CSS.

So, after doing some Google searches about using Github and discovering Github for Windows and Mac, and learning about being able to use gh-pages to host a static website I pushed my wee site out into cyberspace. Using Github for Windows/Mac is so much easier then using the command lines – although I am sure it will be useful to know those sometime in the future.

Here is my site – Still very much a work in progress and a learning tool for me.


Here I am on Github – Useful stuff from RailGirlsWgtn Github page.

Next few steps with my site will be planning out what I want and also in November I am doing a 2 day HTML course at Yoobee, so hoping to learn some cool stuff there. It will be good to learn properly after a few years of picking things up here and there!

I have also rediscovered Sublime Text text editor. I like it as it just seems nicer then Notepad++ and can put on Windows and Mac!


How did you learn about HTML/CSS, webdesign? Got any goto sites that you think are essential? Either that you use now or learnt heaps from? What site do you recommend for me to keep developing my HTML/CSS? What site is good to start learning about Javascript?