About Teacher Spotlight: The concept of “students first” is at the heart of everything we are and do at CodeWizardsHQ. We know students learn best when they interact with a talented teacher. We conscientiously hand-select the very best coding teachers, ultimately hiring only the top 2% of applicants. Every month, we go behind the scenes to tell you more about one of our amazing teachers. This month, we bring you, Daniel Schroeder!
Daniel began teaching at CodeWizardsHQ in 2020. He has taught a handful of classes with us. He stands out as a fun teacher.
Why do you think it’s important for kids to learn to code?
Coding teaches kids how to break down complex problems into simpler ones, and that is a skill that can translate across disciplines. If done right, when kids are learning to code, they will also be learning how to think in an ordered, logical way, and that solving a problem has less to do with memorizing all of the tools than with using a few good ones well. When I was a kid, I remember dreading classes where you did rote memorization of things (multiplication tables, grammar, memorizing the periodic table), and loving the classes that challenged you to solve problems with the tools at hand (science projects, literature papers, physics). With coding, there’s no place for memorization, except for on a very basic syntax level. Once you learn to ‘speak’ in a programming language, you take those basic tools and build programs and solve problems with them, and there are usually a limitless number of solutions to the same problem. Getting comfortable early in life with formulating personal solutions to problems is vital if you ever want to be able to create anything unique or noteworthy. Even if a kid learns to code when they are young, and goes on to be something non-tech related later in life, the experience of solving problems in an ordered, logical way, with a few basic tools, will undoubtedly carry over into their work. Also, computers aren’t going anywhere, and demystifying how software is written is important if we are going to have a population that spends a large part of their day interacting with a computer. Developing a relationship with computers early in life, and how to control them through programming, can only be a win-win for kids. Often, computers can seem like magic to the layman, and the reason we call ourselves Code Wizards is because we have the power to control that magic. We also happen to believe that this power can be harnessed by anyone willing to learn, even a young kid.
What inspired you to learn to code?
I was always curious about computers and programming, but early in life I chose to pursue music, so I focused on that intensely for about 18 years. In my late 20’s, after I had finished undergraduate and master’s degrees in music, and struck out on my own to pursue a career as a freelance musician, I missed the challenges of academia, mainly, the music theory courses that I took in graduate school. These were intense analytical courses, where you broke down works of master composers and tried to understand what made them ‘tick’. I knew I didn’t want a career as an academic teaching music theory, because I dabbled in that a bit during and immediately after college, but I thought that maybe I could find another area of study where this kind of intense analytical thinking would be used. Computer science, and programming in general, was the perfect fit. I was hooked on the very first day, when I wrote a program to make a rocket ship take off (much like our students do today!) in Pascal (why I chose Pascal in the Summer of 2015 is a mystery to me to this day). It took me several hours to figure out how to get everything to work right, and to digest the syntax, but once I was able to get everything running, the feeling of pure joy was instant, and I’ve been chasing that ever since.
If you could have one teacher super-power, what would it be?
I often wish I could ‘dumb-down’ my knowledge of programming on cue so that I could remember what it was like to be exposed to a topic for the first time. Once you’ve been doing something for a while, there are all kinds of things that seem second-nature to you, but are completely overwhelming for a beginner. I’m in a good position to teach right now, as I’ve only been programming for 5 years, but keeping that relationship to what it felt like to be a newcomer gets more challenging all the time.
I also wish that I could read students’ minds and understand how they are perceiving a topic, so I could better tailor my explanation around that view. I often ask a lot of questions to a student when we are one-on-one, and then build my lesson around that. In classes, that’s harder to do, but still possible on some level. Having a window into a student’s thought process would be so valuable.
What is your favorite teaching story? Or What is the funniest story you have from your kids coding classes?
What has been the most rewarding part of teaching kids at CodeWizardsHQ? or What do you enjoy most about teaching kids?
I’m relatively new to the team, so I’ve only taught a handful of courses, but I’m already loving the experience. I originally thought I would be more interested in teaching the older kids who were more advanced and working on stuff related to the web, which is my main area of study. I have a group that I’m doing that with now, and it’s great, but I honestly love teaching the newcomers in the beginning Scratch and Python courses just as much as the older kids. The opportunity to expose someone to coding, possibly for the first time, is thrilling and motivates me to try hard to get the material across in a way that is fun and engaging. There are so many ‘lightbulb’ moments with the young kids, where I can see and hear them starting to perceive the world in a new light, it’s so inspiring!
What is your vision for the future of coding and kids?
Honestly, I was skeptical about kids learning to code before taking this job. The kids in that one-off class I taught seemed to enjoy the process of coding, but I wasn’t sure if they could absorb the material and use it without guidance. I knew they could ‘mimic’ the teacher and all, but could they learn this stuff at such a young age? Would they be able to think creatively to solve problems? Having taught a few of the entry-level classes, I can firmly say that yes, kids can learn this stuff, and even think more creatively than the teacher! They surprise me each lesson with their insights and creativity. I’m now firmly in the camp that thinks coding should be a required subject for any child, just like Math, English, Science, etc… Exposure to computers early in life, and the thought process that goes into programming, can only be beneficial for kids, no matter what they choose to do later in life.
When you aren’t working, what do you enjoy doing (hobbies)?
I’m a professional musician for a living, and I code on the side, but would eventually like to flip those roles. Honestly, I love music and code, and would do both of them for free (assuming someone would pay my rent!), so my work overlaps with my hobbies. Besides music and code, I love to read. I’d say about 50% of my reading is music/code-related, and the other 50% is an even split between non-fiction (history, philosophy, pop-psychology) and fiction. A perfect day is a few hours of programming, a light gig or jam session, and a few hours with a good book or two! Also, I have the cutest dog in the world, Django, and we generally go on long adventures around New Orleans together, and spend hours playing variations of tug-o-war and fetch.
What is the best thing you’ve built using code?
I’ve dabbled in a bunch of different areas, since coding has been more of a hobby for the past few years than a profession, so I’ve built tons of small things in different languages and areas. I spent a year at a local university taking computer science courses, and dabbled in robotics for a semester and enjoyed that. I was able to get an Arduino powered robot (BabyRat) to find its way (partially) through a maze using little echo sensors, and it was the coolest thing I’ve had a chance to work on! Other than that, I’ve just built tons of websites, and hundreds of small Codewars-style algorithm focused programs to get better as a programmer. I’m learning pygame right now, so I have a feeling that recreating the early-90’s computer games of my childhood is going to become the coolest thing I’ve built, sorry BabyRat…
How has learning to code positively impacted your life?
With programming, I’ve found an outlet for the analytical side of my brain that I was craving throughout my teenage and early adult years. Playing music and thinking about music all day is a creative endeavor, and often the goal is to ‘let go’ of the analytical side when you are in the act of performing and rely on your instincts. With programming, I’m sure there is some of that as well, but I love sitting with hard problems for hours on end and coming up with creative solutions to solve them. I also really like the community between other programmers. Much like with musicians, if you come to another programmer with a good question, or a problem you’ve worked on but can’t find a solution to, they are almost always willing to take time out of their day to work with you and help you grow. Most programmers are always expanding their horizons, and stretching the limits of their intellect. In my case, I was getting burnt out with music after so many years, and finding this whole programming universe, where everyone is constantly pushing themselves to get better and smarter, was a godsend in my late-20’s and continues to inspire me to keep growing in my mid-30’s. I’ll never finish this journey as a programmer, just like I’ll never master the guitar, and that’s a really exciting and motivating force in my life.
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