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Tech Talk

Learning to Code, Harry Potter & Bloom’s Taxonomy

You'll be creating Patronuses (I mean code) in no time!

Learning to code is not quick and easy. Many coders, including myself, have discussed reasons why learning to code is so challenging (here, here, here, and here). To become a programmer, you need to have experiences that force you to move through a hierarchy of learning objectives (known in education as Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning). Doing so ensures that you can progress from simply recalling coding concepts to being able to develop your own original code. Bloom's Taxonomy has six levels: Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create.

But what does Harry Potter have to do with the learning objectives and coding? Simple. Throughout the seven books in the Harry Potter series there are numerous examples demonstrating each of the learning objectives in the hierarchy and are beautifully illustrated in the movies. Remember, Harry, like you, is experiencing a steep learning curve. Harry must learn potions, charms, and transfiguration, all with tools he has never used before. Doesn't that sound familiar? Instead of magic, you are learning computer science and coding languages like JavaScript and Python. Instead of a cauldron and wand, you are using a text editor and Chrome Developer Tools. (If you aren't familiar with Harry Potter, don't worry. You will still understand the concept.)

In this post, I address the six levels in the hierarchy, describe the types of learning outcomes in each level using action verbs, provide a clear example from the Harry Potter series (with a link to the corresponding video clip), and then relate it back to learning to code.

Remember

In this level, you are able to recall, recite, define and list.

In The Sorcerer's Stone, Harry takes Potions with Professor Snape for the first time. The Professor, ready to embarrass Harry, asks him to recall facts such as where to find a bezoar (answer: in the stomach of a goat) and what is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane (trick question — they are the same plant). Of course, Harry cannot remember these facts. Even if he could, simply recalling information doesn't mean you understand it or can apply it in a new situation. You may be able to list the different types of variables or identify a function, but that doesn't mean you can use, apply or create original code in JavaScript. That is why it is crucial to move through the hierarchy of learning objectives. (View Scene Here)

Understand

In this level, you are able to explain, discuss, describe, and report.

In The Sorcerer's Stone, Hagrid takes Harry to get his school supplies, and Harry takes the opportunity to ask Hagrid about his dead parents. Hagrid explains the events surrounding their tragic end, but also describes the condition of the wizarding world at the time, and they discuss the scar on Harry's head. When do you need to discuss your code like this? One example is when you ask for help. If you use Slack or Stack Overflow, it is critically important that you describe the code you have written, what you expected to happen, what happened instead, and what you tried as a result. You may not have the solution to fix your code, but you demonstrate that you understand where you are in the process. Force yourself to go through those steps when you want to ask for help. It will reinforce your understanding. Often, when I go through this process, I am able to answer my own question at the end. It is the process that engages our brain. (View Scene Here)

Apply

In this level, you are able to use, implement, and demonstrate.

During Defense Against the Dark Arts class in The Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Lupin explains how to deal with a boggart, a creature that feeds off of your fears. First, you must concentrate on something absurdly funny and then clearly enunciate the incantation: Riddikulus. In the scene, the Professor has the students use the spell against a real boggart. Doesn't this example of applying feel like practicing? That's because practicing what you have learned is extremely important regardless of the subject. With coding, though, this means you can follow the coding requirements of a user story to demonstrate what you have learned. For example, the FreeCodeCamp curriculum asks you to complete a variety of assignments such as a tribute page, a random quote generator, and a weather application. To do this, you must recall and understand the coding required. You may still need to "Google" some of your code, but that is all part of demonstrating your ability to apply what you have learned. (View Scene Here)

(Can you guess the subject of my FreeCodeCamp tribute page? Take a look here.)

Analyze

In this level, you are able to draw conclusions, make connections, and compare and contrast.

At the end of The Chamber of Secrets, Harry draws conclusions and explains to Ron that the monster from the Chamber is a basilisk, a serpent. He connects the information about the basilisk provided to him by Hermione with clues from each time the monster encountered a student (they were turned to stone rather than killed). Harry also deduces that the voice he (and he alone) has been hearing is the basilisk since only Harry can understand Parseltongue (snake language). As Harry draws conclusions, he has an almost "Aha" moment. It's not unlike the moment you examine error messages from your code in Chrome Developer Tools and know what to do to fix the broken code (analyze and apply). As a developer, you will need to analyze your code on a constant basis, but analyzing only comes after you not only recall but also understand and apply code. (View Scene Here)

Evaluate

In this level, you are able to critique, assess, select, and justify.

In The Order of the Phoenix, Harry teaches a group of fellow students defensive spells and charms to protect them if they should encounter a Death Eater. As Harry walks around the group, he assess the use of spells and offers suggestions on how to improve — he shows Neville how to properly move his wand and suggests he focuses on a fixed point. In one scene, he even raises some students' wands higher for better execution. Of course, you won't have Harry critiquing your code. Instead, a programmer must critique their own code and look for places to make the code more efficient. Doing this without changing the outcome of the code is called refactoring. Sometimes you need to evaluate code before you write it. For example, you may have a situation where you could use more than one type of function: is using an if statement better than using a switch statement? Weigh your options and select the most appropriate option. Evaluating is a natural extension to analyzing. (View Scene Here)

Create

In this level, you are able to develop, design, work, and assemble.

We never truly understand just how brilliant Professor Snape is when it comes to magic until The Half-Blood Prince. Harry stumbles upon Snape's old Potions schoolbook, and in the margins finds that Professor Snape (known only as the Half-Blood Prince) has created brand new spells, many of them curses, and modifies existing potion recipes for better implementation. Unfortunately, Harry tries the "Sectumsempra" curse on Draco and nearly kills him. You don't have to create evil curses to know you have achieved some mastery in coding; instead, you can take an original idea, wireframe it, build it, and troubleshoot it. Notice, though, that you must have gone through all levels of the hierarchy in order to successfully create. Snape would not have been able to develop new curses if he didn't first remember principles of magic, understand spellwork and evaluate his progress. (View Scene Here)

Wrapping Up

Learning coding, like magic, isn't easy. It requires hard work and patience. You must remember that Harry doesn't really perform much magic on his own in the first book. He hadn't learned enough yet. Regardless, he still became a great wizard and eventually defeated the evil Voldemort. Keep that in mind on your journey to becoming a programmer. It won't happen over night. Focus on experiences that will move you through the hierarchy of learning.

One thing Harry has that we all need is friends to share the burden. With Ron and Hermione by his side, the three friends persevere through many challenges. Find your "Ron" and "Hermione" in the coding community by joining a study group, attending meet up events, and participating in discussion boards either on Facebook, Slack, or Stack Overflow. But be patient with people. You don't know where they are in the levels of hierarchy.

Talent

PowerToFly Holiday Gift Guide: Our Must-Have Work-From-Home Items

What To Buy For Your Favorite Remote Worker (Or Yourself!)

My friends were pretty jealous when I told them I'd found a remote job. They pictured me choosing my hours, working from the comfort of my bed, and rocking pajamas 24/7. All great things... in moderation.

Just a little over a month into my role at PowerToFly, I've already experienced many of the pros and cons of working from home. I know I'm not alone in this - the remote workforce is only growing (9 million people in the U.S. alone worked from home at least half of the time in 2017).

The beauty of remote work is that it lets you decide what kind of environment you'll be most productive in… but the downside is that if you don't build that environment for yourself, you might find you've got a lot of back pain (turns out, working from bed isn't so comfortable after all) and not much energy.

So in the spirit of the holidays, I asked my more experienced remote coworkers to share their must-have work-from-home items - the little things that keep them sane and smiling during their daily grind.

Whether you already work from home, are looking to do so in the future, or are shopping for someone who does (cough cough, Mom), this holiday gift guide is for you.


1. Blue light glasses to protect your eyes from long hours looking at the computer (and to keep you looking sharp at the same time).


Get them from Amazon for $21.99

Our Senior Marketing & Community Manager Lauren says: "I've never worn glasses EVER, but when I started working remotely my eyes got so tired. I've seen a huge difference after I started wearing blue light glasses, and no headaches!"


2. A bullet journal to help you stay on top of your goals. So you know you're being productive even when your boss can't literally pat you on the back.

Get it on Amazon for $9.06

Our Customer Success Associate Brinley says: "I use it for everything – hand-drawn calendar, to-do lists, and even personal stuff like budget planning and weekly goals."


3. A laptop tray so you can be productive from wherever you're most comfortable. (You haven't really worked from home until you've worked from your bed.)


Get it from Barnes & Noble for $39.95

Our Recruiting Manager Amy says: "I love my laptop tray!!! you can fit your planner, your laptop and most importantly, your coffee."


4. A productivity planner to help you become more intrinsically motivated. (Ideal for those lacking the artistic talents required for bullet journaling.)

Get it on Intelligent Change for $24.95

Our President and Cofounder Katharine says: "It helps me manage and protect my time so that when I have creative work that requires a lot of focus, I can break it down into short, intense chunks and be more efficient."


5. A stylish stone diffuser that brings your favorite scent to wherever you're working.

Get it from Vitruvi for $119

Our Senior Account Executive Anastasia says: "Right now I'm working in a room that smells like a forest after a light rain." I've definitely never heard anyone say that about their cubicle.


6. A gym/workout class membership to keep you active (and sane) during the week - because exercise makes you happy and being happy makes you more productive! And a little bit of human interaction doesn't hurt, either.

Our Mid-Market Account Executive Deveshe says: "It's important for me to get out, shake a leg and jump around. Otherwise I wouldn't step out through the week."


7. A Peloton stationary bike so you can get in a great workout even when it's too cold to leave the house. (And once you invest this much money, you know damn well you'll actually use it, or lose ten pounds from gnawing guilt alone. Win-win.)

Get it from Peloton for $2,245

Our Operations Manager Gina says: "It allows me to stay fit no matter how busy I am…I can exercise during my lunch hour or in between meetings if need be."


8. A backpack with a dedicated fleece-lined laptop compartment to keep all of your equipment protected and organized, whether you're traveling across the world or walking across the street to your favorite cafe.

Get this one from North Face for $73.99

Our Director of Customer Success Cristina says: "Love it for packing my laptop and tech items as it has tons of pockets Including fleece lined ones for tech."


9. Bluetooth headphones with immersive sound so you'll never miss a word your boss says.

Get these Bose SoundLink On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones with Microphone on Amazon for $159

Our Director of Business Development Amanda says: "I can get up and move around the house while I'm on calls."


10. A battery case for your phone so you can work wherever you want, without running out of juice.

Get it on Amazon for $108.99

Our Production Lead Rob says: "When traveling, I have to have my iPhone charging case."


11. A speaker to listen to your favorite music/podcasts when the sound of silence is just too much.

Get the Sonos Play:1 from Google Express for 149.99

Our Production Lead Rob says: "Working from home can get lonely sometimes so I love to play WNYC or podcasts when I feel like I need some company. I'm also a big vinyl collector and I have a turntable that can play wirelessly to a Sonos so even though my record player is in my living room, I can listen to it in my office."


12. An adjustable laptop stand that your wrists and your wallet (it's definitely cheaper than carpel tunnel surgery in the U.S.) will thank you for. Plus, this one doubles as a standing desk.

Get it on Amazon for $59.99

Our Customer Success Manager Lola says: "I'm using a box right now, but you definitely need something to elevate your computer."


13. A mate gourd and yerba mate, a.k.a the perfect workmates. Get the jolt you need without the jitters and gain your South American friends' approval at the same time.

Get the gourd and bombilla (straw) on Amazon for $23.99 And the Yerba for $13.95 (or make a trip to Argentina and buy it for $2)

Our DevOps Lead Emiliano says: "Very Argentinean, but definitely something that cannot be missing from my desk."


14. A foot massager to reward yourself for a job well done. Who says your home office can't double as a home spa? Work hard, relax hard.

Buy it on Amazon for $59.98

Our Product Designer Jedidah says: "Sitting in one spot can get strenuous on muscles in my leg, but with my foot massager I get to improve blood flow in that area, and enjoy a great foot massage which eases stress."


----

My coworker Anastasia said it best:

I love that working from home you get to take charge of your surroundings - I'm never cold like I am in offices (the male vs. female divide there ha). And I like me some good ambiance which is obviously subjective too so I appreciate being able to control it alllll myself.

So take charge of your surroundings and make 2019 your most productive - and comfortable - year yet!

#treatyourself

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The hiring manager seized on my silence and asked me another question: "What's the minimum you'd accept?" Not knowing how to stall for more time, I blurted out my actual minimum. He flashed a toothy grin and said, "Done." I knew then and there that I'd gone way too low - his smile said it all.

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This is why we were thrilled to partner with such a like minded company in Pluralsight, who are making it easy to keep up with technology through expert-led courses, assessments, and tools in fields such as software development, IT ops, data, and cyber security, for an evening of networking and learning on November 28th.

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