Learning from a teenage teacher

By Isabel Sieh

YOUNG GENIUS The author, Isabel, is the founder of Girls Will Code

Being a teacher doesn’t mean you stop learning. That was the first thing I learned when I started teaching computer programming to young girls three years ago.

I have always loved coding, spending hours learning through online courses. As I learned more, however, the courses became more challenging. Moreover, it was difficult to understand explanations purely from online forums. I longed for a mentor. It was then that I realized the immense value of teachers and guided learning.

Luckily, I was able to find mentors along the way. But I noticed that even though there were many students who wanted to learn to code, there was a lack of technology education. When I was 14 years old, I started a weekly educational program for young girls, teaching them computer programming. Over the past three years, through the program, I have had many teaching experiences that I would like to share.

Front of the class

Just a few days into the program I discovered the joy of teaching. When my students completed the same mini-challenges I once did, like making a cat move across the screen through coding, I felt this immense sense of fulfillment. Each of the student’s accomplishments felt like my own. They motivated me to become a more supportive teacher. It often goes without saying, but I think the best teachers genuinely care about their students.

With the successes of teaching, struggles came too. As I taught more advanced topics, students began experiencing some difficulty in learning. Facing challenges, encountering different learning speeds, and the varied interests of students made me realize that every student is different. It was something I never considered before but is something teachers deal with every day.

In response, I scoured YouTube for the clearest “if/else” explanations, one of the basic coding statements. I gathered breadboards and LEDs for hands-on learning. I even adjusted the curriculum to cater to their varied interests.

As the girls leaned to code, I learned to teach. I learned that it was important to always actively analyze how you teach and adopt approaches that could cater to different students.

The biggest lesson I've learned from teaching is that teachers should be able to provide not just educational support, but also emotional support. That may mean being energetic, allowing classmates to be able to form bonds, creating challenges that bring out their competitive spirit, or even finding ways to incorporate fun trends into your lessons. I think it’s important to motivate students beyond just the topic, fostering a genuine love for learning.

Sharing notes

Having been both in the place of a student and teacher, I’d like to share my top two tips to fellow students for upcoming classes. Whether they are modular or online, they can help you create the best learning experience.

First, as a teacher, I’ve learned that education is a two-way street between the teacher and the student. Try encouraging yourself to be more engaged in class by asking questions or simply paying attention. You’ll often find that learning is not only made easier but also more enjoyable.

Second, as many students have moved to online classes, students should try to be as transparent with their teachers. If you don’t understand a topic, say so! Teachers can’t always read what’s going on in their students’ heads, especially if it’s through a screen.

Learning along the way

Over the past three years, starting with when I began teaching, the weekly educational program for young girls has developed into The Coding School. It is an online, live-learning platform where students, boys and girls, can learn to code. The Coding School teachers are called Coaches, which is a reflection of their role as they facilitate learning. They also provide both the support of a teacher and a friend.

As we move to online learning, it can often seem like we’re all alone in the learning process. But with my experience at The Coding School, I learned that that’s not the case. When The Coding School moved online, the curriculum of over 30 classes was adjusted to the pace of teaching online. Coaches go through training to see learning and emotional cues particular to online learning. What the students are learning is not just coding, but also critical thinking and creativity. These are the same teaching approaches adopted at Teach Up, which aims to strengthen the foundation of students’ math skills.

With the huge shift to online platforms, it’s important for us to acknowledge that both students and teachers are crossing the digital learning threshold together for the first time. Although mastering the technical nuances of the online platform is necessary, it is even more important that students and teachers communicate, provide feedback, and motivate each other. In a world where technology is overtaking the classroom, it is still the human aspects that will make it an enriching learning environment.

Isabel Sieh is a 17-year-old passionate about computer science, particularly its social implications on our world, and creating communities to foster the use of coding. She is the founder and executive director of Girls Will Code and the co-founder of The Coding School. www.coding.ph