A Year of Teaching with Girls Who Code

October 2017

I've been teaching with Girls Who Code in the Denver, CO area for the past year and it has been one of the best boosts to my skills as a Designer. Not only is it my favorite activity that I do every week, but it has really helped me develop thoughtful communication and empathy skills. Teaching has been a way to be self-reflective, and also pushes me to learn and grow outside of my comfort zone.

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Photo: GWC Facebook
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GWC Contract. Girls are Awesome!
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Impact Project ideation

Teaching Makes Me a Better Designer

Focus on Communication

When I'm mentoring my students, I have to communicate more openly that I would normally. I focus on being reflective of the group and adjusting to the mood of the room. Are they bored or restless? Do they seem excited to get started on a project and don't want to listen to announcements? Are they confused and closed off? Based on how they're reacting, I can adjust my approach.

During my day to day as Designer, I am frequently presenting to my team or clients. Reflecting their overall demeanor (and guiding it to where I would like the mood to be) is important to the success of the group discussion.

Communication through Multiple Methods

We all respond differently to learning new information. Sometimes we need to read information, listen to it and repeat the process. My students are no different. Sometimes getting them to think critically about a new idea requires them to see me write it down, on a whiteboard or a piece of paper, and then describe the new idea in detail. GWC provides amazing course materials, too, for students to read project descriptions and watch tutorial videos.

I try to document everything I work on in a shared artifact, write lists of next steps and clearly outline projects when I'm working with my team. This method helps keep everyone organized and reinforces information through multiple methods. Personally, I respond well to clear lists of action items to complete and the steps required to achieve that. My auditory learning is terrible.

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GWC sketches from mobile ideation session
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We All Learn Differently (Obviously)

To expand upon the above thought, we are all different learners. It is incredibly obvious that students have very different learning styles. Some students can read content and immediately absorb it, while others respond well to in-depth guidance from a teacher to help them go through each step.

Personally, I respond well to tutorial videos, which I can watch over and over again combined with textbooks. I also write down absolutely everything and make a lot of lists or side projects to learn new skills.

I keep different learning styles in mind while I'm mentoring or collaborating with my team. I try to interpret how other people I interact with learn and tailor my communication method to fit what works best for them.

Guide Don't Tell

The most important aspect of being a teacher has been to guide my students rather than always giving them the answer. When they're working through a project and get stuck, they oftentimes ask for help to point out the error. Rather than telling them, I'll say a guiding question such as, "What do you think is missing here?" or, "We were working on a similar problem earlier and found the solution, didn't we?", which are much better tactics. Using this approach encourages my students to figure out the problem on their own and encourages them to develop new learning styles.

While I would never speak this way to a client, I do think it's helpful to practice guiding language, since it opens up conversation and doesn't assume that one person is the expert.

Girls Who Code in the Denver area is looking for more facilitators! Please reach out if you're interested.

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GWC sketches from mobile ideation session
Teaching