Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Workshop Done

I am back home, at my desk for the first time since last Thursday.

The workshop went pretty well. Being the first time I had taught a class of that length, it was a bit stressful. It ended up being even more stressful than I had anticipated. A combination of a really, really bright group of students, and the fact that we provided the exercises in digital rather than printed form, meant that exercises that should have taken an hour, often took fifteen minutes. Because they were smart students, they absorbed material quickly, and because the instructions were provided digitally, they were able to copy and paste the code portions of the instructions, which is not only faster than having to type in the code, but it also has a considerably lower possibility for making mistakes. Frankly, we learn a lot more from making mistakes, than we do from having things work right the first time.

For the future, I will probably use printed exercises. I think the way most people learn, something that can be copied and pasted bypasses the type of brain processing that moves stuff from short-term memory to long-term memory. Now, I'm no psychologist, so I could be making it up, but I know that in my personal experience, when I've been able to just copy and past and then tweak somebody else's code rather than figure it out myself, the next time I needed to do it, I didn't really remember it.

All things considered, though, I felt like it went pretty well and I hope the students felt it was valuable and worth attending. I did run out of steam toward the end of the day Sunday, having only gotten about two hours of sleep each of the two previous nights (thank Dog for caffeine!), but we covered a lot more material than I ever anticipated over the course of three days. I think that the Keynote presentation I have right now is more honestly a week's worth of material for a more typical classes working from printed exercises.

Now of course, I'm scrambling to catch up even more than I was before. My inbox has really piled up, and I'm even further behind on the book. On top of that, our annual family vacation is coming up next week, so you probably won't see a long tutorial post for the next two weeks.


Ken Pespisa said...

I completely agree with your theory on how people learn. I've heard from several teachers a trick to committing knowledge to long-term memory. Their methods varied slightly, but the gist was this: Read or review the material for 20-30 minutes, three days in a row. Then review it again one week later. Then review it again one last time a month later. It is surprising how well that works.

On the flip-side, when I've taken classes and been able to copy and paste the code, I've really robbed myself of that first review of the code. I also tend to not bother reviewing it later because it was glossed over during the first pass.

Jeff LaMarche said...


On the second and third day of the workshop, I added some exercises that were not quite as scripted, and watching the students struggle a little bit and then discussing the problems with them, I could see they were really learning, really thinking and, I suspect, really committing stuff to long-term memory. Maybe not method names, but at least the important concepts, and method names can be looked up.

Thanks for your support, though. It's nice to know I'm not completely in left field. :)


Chris Ryland said...

Yes, the folks at Big Nerd Ranch have always used paper exercises, so you have to type it in and review as you go.

It's like pair programming with the manual. ;-)

Jeff LaMarche said...

If the Big Nerd Ranch is doing it, it's probably a good idea. I've heard only good things about the Big Nerd Ranch and I've heard those good things from multiple people.