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Teaching Programming to Children (pt. 3)

Learning modalities

One of the most important things I've learned about teaching is the importance of modalities. Modalities describe the way one learns. I define modalities loosely here, so that when I taught English in Japan, one modality was grammar-learning-learning, another was conversation-driven-learning, interactive, solitary, repetitive, or generative. The trick was to be aware of one's own bias and to teach to as many modalities as possible (not necessarily in the same lesson but throughout the class).

I for one am a very visual person. I aced geometry and had headaches with algebra. I can't memorize a math formula with ease but can at a glance figure out angles on parallelograms. I enjoy photography and can't keep a musical beat.

Which explains why programming languages with highly equation-driven syntax look like gobbledygook to me, and why when I serenade people I do it John Cussack style -- with a boom-box.

This is the coolest thing about Ruby, my opinion. It allows you to teach in many modalities. I can be written in strict equation driven syntax as well as looser more dialectical form. So it can be taught in the scatterbrained ADD way it's handled on a book like why's Poignant guide to Ruby  with Foxes and comics or in the more traditional mathematical way too, all in the same class.
why's Poignant Guide to Ruby, with Foxes.
So I personally respond really well to this type of teaching and found why's book very easy to read, and it's allowed me to look at other more technical books and find what I need to learn from them.

Active involvement

One of the great effects of technology is that it allows the ability to be creators with very little effort. Youtube and digital video have allowed anyone with an interest to become a film-maker without the need for extensive knowledge and expense that film production previously required. This extends to programming too. As we learn it, our interaction with software becomes active rather than passive and if interest follows we can then also become creators of it, not just consumers.

Children who learn programming will have that world suddenly become interactive and in the case of open source software easily configurable. With a language like Ruby, the steep learning curve of other languages can be avoided, the child engaged, different modalities hit and learning can become self-driven.


Learning programming unlocks the door to a world of wonderful resources in the open source movement and allows active interaction with the technical world as opposed to passive reception. This skill will be a very valuable tool to have in your student's tool-box. Now we have a few good resources and a great practical language, Ruby, that is well-suited for the requirements of teaching children.


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