Threads

The threads of my life come together in unexpected ways. I see it in bits and pieces, in things I read and think about. Philosophy, programming, epistemology and thinking about thinking….

Here’s an excerpt from David Black’s The Well-Grounded Rubyist :

The real world

“The term real world gets thrown around a lot in discussions of programming. There’s room for debate (and there is debate) as to whether this or that programming language, or even this or that kind of programming language, corresponds more closely than others to the shape of the real world. A lot depends on how you perceive the world. Do you perceive it as peopled with things, each of which has tasks to do and waits for someone to request the task? If so, you may conclude that object-oriented languages model the world best. Do you see life as a series of to-do items on a checklist, to be gone through in order? If so, you may see a strictly procedural programming language as having closer ties to the characteristics of the real world. In short, there’s no one answer to the question of what the real world is—so there’s no answer to the question of what it means for a programming language to model the real world. Nor is it necessarily as important an issue as it may seem. The world you construct in a computer program is at heart an imaginary world, and limiting yourself to making it seem otherwise can be overly constrictive. ” (pp 33-34)

 

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Learning By Design: Physical Spaces

Environments convey messages. Messages like “grin politely and pull your shoulders back” or “chill, relax, take your shoes off”. How does physical space communicate one message over another?

At DBC, the stakes for communicating a positive message are high. Here,  70+ students spend at least twelve hours a day, 5-7 days/week doing intensely challenging brain and team work. They have daily deadlines, are expected to pair up and work together regardless of their different learning styles, levels of experience, life outlook or personality. What does the optimal space for a diverse group of students who are learning intensely look like?

Openness

LightOpenSpaces

A shared open space creates a culture of “we’re all in this together”. Open a room up and students can easily move to a nearby table to seek help. A busy instructor is no longer simply “unresponsive” but can now be seen helping another student. Students seen focusing on their tasks motivate other students to do the same. The bustling energy makes the space feel alive and fluid, open for experimentation and co-creation.

Light

Light hints at possibility and can dispel frustration. Difficult challenges don’t appear quite as scary under light. When peering into a dark text editor for 12 plus hours a day, light becomes a refuge, a source for energy and motivation. At DBC, a gigantic ceiling window is responsible for flooding the space with natural light. Couches and chairs welcome students to play, nap, lounge or chat underneath it.

Circles

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“Circles aim to create a space in which participants are safe to be their most authentic self.” (From The Little Book of Circle Processes by Kay Pranis) Morning check-ins and feedback discussions happen in circles. At DBC, tables and chairs are arranged in circle formations. Going back to ancient practices of sitting around a fire, table or centerpiece together, a circle creates a safe space for community. And that’s something incredibly important at DBC. Learning and personal growth both happen in communion.

Rolling Chairs

RollyChairs and Whiteboard

Rolling chairs contribute to cooperation and ad hoc group work.  When a student with a confused look sits at one table, it’s easy for a student at another table to roll her chair over to help with the problem. With rolling chairs, groups can easily change their seating configuration or expand their circle to accommodate more students. No screeching, lifting or other uncomfortable side-effects.

Positive Messages

InspirationEverywhere

Ok, so quotes can get corny. But when they’re carefully chosen, they can also remind us of a larger goal, or redirect our focus toward a positive framing of something we’re struggling with.  At DBC, quotes can be found in the kitchen, the bathroom, and distributed on walls throughout the space. They’re as simple as “Don’t panic” and as profound as “And what is it to work with love? Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.”- Kahlil Gibran

Green

GreenAliveFreshNewPossibility

DBC’s goal is to help students grow both personally and professionally. And much like light, plants signal possibility and growth. Whene placed in the hallway and throughout the room, they can serve as subtle reminders of this.

Demystifying Passion

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Find your passion. That’s the phrase most commencement speakers tell anxious graduates. It’s what career guides spend entire chapters on, and what advice columns rehash with “shoulds” and exclamation marks. When someone asks “What do you do” at a party, admitting that you don’t really like your job is like admitting you’re a failure. You didn’t live up to that commencement speaker’s advice. You didn’t make your dream “happen”. So most people tell a polite narrative about their work and then reach for the appetizer tray.

In a “find your passion” culture, I want to propose something radical: the basic assumption that our passion is somewhere in us, that we only need to look hard enough, long enough to find it, is wrong. If they’re honest, most people who actually are “living their passion” will tell you that it took them a long time to get to that point. And that it involved a lot more than simply “finding” it.

What is “passion”? I tend to think of it as something a person does to receive positive feedback, a sense of purpose and connectedness to the larger world. The call to “find” your passion makes it seem like passion is located in a nook or cranny somewhere inside of you. You just have to dig deep enough to discover it.  But really, how many people are just born with a passion that gives rise to positive feedback, a sense of purpose and connectedness in the world? Mozart and Michael Jackson aside, not many. Instead of “finding” a passion, perhaps we should concentrate on developing one.

And developing a passion takes time. And moments of failure. And endurance. Most Boots know, or at least come to know this. And at DBC, a lot of the staff’s work goes into addressing their negative perceptions of “failure”, reframing students’ expectations of success, and supporting their willingness to engage with problems that make them feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. Because when coding, it’s hard to tell a student to be passionate about something they might initially fail at 90% of the time, or see no immediate result. If “finding” passion is thought of in terms of particular skills or tasks, most people will reject challenging work out of insecurity about their “inherent” abilities.

When Boots come to DBC, I don’t think it’s passion for coding that’s most important. Instead, it’s a much broader passion for personal and intellectual growth is the most critical requirement. And the foresight and openness to engage in something that may not be immediately rewarding (at least according to the performance-based model of “success” taught in most school and workplaces). If the DBC staff do their job well, a passion for coding will follow in the long-term.

First and foremost, DBC tries to create an environment in which students can feel safe throughout the process of engaging in challenges, pushing limits, working together. And through “Engineering Empathy” workshops, the staff essentially try to get students to shed attitudes toward learning that many have held on for 16+ years. Instead, of measuring “successful learning” by grades, the staff work hard to measure a student’s learning by her individual and interpersonal growth.

DBC’s role is essentially to help students grow and develop their passion. What DBC does is provide an environment where it’s safe to fail. DBC tries to engineer a learning environment where, in fact, failure is celebrated as an opportunity to learn. Passion isn’t there ready to simply be picked up and fired. If passion is to last, it requires more than searching for and finding it. Like any long-lasting love, it requires attentive care, dedication, and patience.