Written by Shannon

“Someone told me to go ‘learn to code’.  What do they think I’m doing?”

My son Josh shared this tidbit with me, as he was telling me about an issue he is having with a bit of code in his latest project – a “mod” for one of his favorite games, Terraria.   

In the last month, he’s been dusting off his programming skills and putting them work building a Terraria mod that goes with the book he’s been writing for the last year.

The last time he did any programming was in 2015, when he was deep diving in video game design and programming.  So it’s been a few years.  

Not only are his skills a bit rusty, he’s programming in C# (pronounced C-sharp), which he hasn’t used before.  And Terraria has gone through big changes in the last couple years, making the available example mod code out of date.  

Hence, asking questions in the modding community – which, aside from this one comment, has been helpful.

But the whole conversation reminded me of the difference between “experiential learning” and “curriculum-based learning”, and why I repeatedly say that hands-on, experiential, or “project-based” learning is a higher-level, a deeper-level of learning.  

While getting a basic understanding of the foundational skills behind any skill-based learning is important, the implementation of that learning is key to actually acquiring and mastering the skills.  

It’s one thing to “learn to code” (or whatever skill) in a controlled, lesson-by-lesson setting, but it’s another level to be able to use that skill dynamically in real-world situations.

And that’s where it’s critically important that our kids know how to find the information, examples, and advice they need when they need it in the real world.    

Like asking in a forum, finding example code, consulting a mentor, finding a resource. And troubleshooting to find a solution to the challenges they are facing in real world situations.

So often a supported “learning by doing” method yields so much context and skill development that brings our kids further along than just taking a course or following a scripted curriculum.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s value in taking courses and using resources to build foundational skills, but the magic is in the experiences, in the doing, in the self-directed exploration and implementation of those skills.

And, when our kids are building their skills – in whatever skill set – we, as homeschoolers, get to bundle that deep learning up – as part of their body of learning –  onto the transcript.

Here’s a quick snippet from the technology section of Josh’s transcript (the same one you see  on the “Anatomy of a Transcript” example in the Free Resource Library.)

These three credits are a combination of multiple hands-on experiences, a couple mentored summer “camps”, and other programming and game designed resources.

If Josh were still in high school, this Terraria modding experience could have been combined into his Video Game Design credit and/or, depending on how much time invested and skill developed, probably a new half credit or credit for “Introduction to C#” (the language that Terraria mods are written in.)

This summer, as your kids are investing time and energy into their personal interests and projects, know that it is all learning.   And the skills developed, knowledge gleaned, and experiences all come together into that greater body of learning.  It all counts.

Until next time, Happy Learning!

P.S.  If Josh was writing his book during his high school years, like his sisters did, that would probably go under a Creative Writing credit, or a Worldbuilding credit.  

P.S.S in case it’s a new term:  Worldbuilding is a subset of creative writing – integral to writing science fiction and fantasy, but also the skills often cross over well with video game design.

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