At Pitsco, we’re doing our part to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Click here for more information.
Home > About Us > Overcoming the fear of coding

Overcoming the fear of coding

Published April 15, 2019
Share

Additional 2030 Workforce articles:

By Aaron Locke, Curriculum Specialist
alocke@pitsco.com

I have to confess. Even as a Pitsco curriculum specialist who focuses on coding and robotics, I find that coding – programming – can be overwhelming, confusing, and downright frustrating at times. But just like any challenge in life, the key to overcoming this challenge is to not let fear get in the way and to persevere with grit and determination. It might take some time, effort, and the swallowing of our pride to ask for help, but with the right tools and the right mindset, anyone can code – and teach coding.

I’ve come up with 10 simple tips to help you overcome codeophobia, the fear of coding (OK, I made that up). My tips use the example of a simple line-following robot that can detect when an obstacle is in its way.

  1. Understand the problem or task – It seems like a no-brainer, right? But so many times we rush into a problem without a full understanding of what it is we need to achieve. When the problem is understood, it can be broken down into basic steps.
  2. Create an outline – Remember writing informative speeches in school? Coding is a lot like an informative speech. You’re informing the computer/software/robot what to do in certain situations. Whether you’re speech writing or coding, a good place to start is with an outline. Write what you want the code to do in an outline form. This is often called pseudocode. I like to write my pseudocode on sticky notes so that I can rearrange lines easily. As you write your commands, pay attention to your sentence starters. They often help you develop the structure of your code. Words like if, when, determine, or decide often indicate conditionals and will require some form of if statement. Words like while, until, as long as, continuously, and repeat often indicate that a loop of some kind will be needed. Sometimes it helps to create a flowchart to map out your code structure.
  3. Use a visual programming language (VPL) – When most people think of coding, they envision a screen full of letters, numbers, and symbols. But coding doesn’t have to start there. Visual programming languages can be used to create code. Block-based programming interfaces allow you to drag and drop puzzle pieces that snap together to build code. Some VPLs utilize flowcharts to execute code. VPLs help minimize syntax mistakes such as typos, missing characters or symbols, and mistakes in command structure that are common in syntax coding environments. Many VPLs automatically display the syntax code as you drag and drop commands into the environment, enabling you to become familiar with the syntax without having to type it.
  4. Transition your outline to code one line at a time – After your pseudocode is organized, start translating it into code one line at a time. Be aware that one line in written pseudocode might require multiple lines of code in your programming environment.
  5. Verify your code – Many coding interfaces have tools to check that the code makes sense. Use these tools to verify your code frequently, fixing errors as you go.
  6. Refer to sample/example code – One of the best ways to learn to code is by looking at other programs or sample code that already works. This can help you get a better understanding of the structure and syntax of a programming language. Often, you can find code that others have written and does something similar to what you want to do. Reuse existing code that you know works. Copy and paste is your friend.
  7. Use comments to keep track of code – Most coding interfaces enable you to write code comments. These are simple explanations of your code. Code comments usually look a lot like the pseudocode that you started with. In fact, sometimes, I’ll even put my pseudocode directly into the coding environment as code comments and then build each line of code from there. Although it takes time, code comments come in handy when debugging a program.
  8. Keep code organized and neat – In coding, there is nothing worse than messy code that’s hard to follow. As you code, keep your code looking nice and orderly. Use indentation when appropriate for structures like functions, loops, and if-else statements. Use line breaks to keep related lines of code together and to separate unrelated lines.
  9. Start small – Start with the simplest part of your program and get it working first. Then add other tasks, functions, and commands, testing each individually as you add complexity.
  10. When you’re debugging, modify one command at a time – For a scientific experiment to be valid, you try to keep all control variables the same as you modify the independent variable and monitor the outcome of the dependent variable. Debugging code is often like running a scientific experiment. You should change only one command at a time and see how it affects the outcome of the program. If you change multiple commands, you might not know which change caused the program to perform differently.

It’s true that coding can seem intimidating, especially for new beginners. But when you really get to its core, coding is just a form of problem-solving – something that teachers tend to be great at because they do it every day. You take complex thoughts and ideas, break them into simple steps, create instructions, put them in logical order, assess various inputs from students, modify instructions based on that input, and translate it all, not into computer language but into a human language students can understand. See, you are already a coder.

“Your constant inquiry of our operation, our successes, and our barriers has been crucial in our ability to run the Academy as we have. We could have not done it if it wasn’t with your support.”

– Jairo A Maldonado, EdM, assistant principal, Westfield High School, Houston, Texas

We enable young learners to develop the mind-set, skill set, and tool set needed for future success.

Get Started