HTML and CSS from the beginning – Week 3 & 4 reflection (and public failure!)

A graphical despiction of a very simple html d...
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Have you ever declared something in a public place and then lived to regret you ever said it?

I’m sure plenty of you have, so you’ll be able to empathise with me as I declare here and now that I have failed spectacularly at the P2PU course I enrolled in.

So, what went wrong?

I think I overestimated my ability to commit time to learning something that is totally new to me and requires so much concentration. I find it hard enough committing time to writing here when I’m working full time and trying to do my best by my workplace and my family. Taking on a whole new set of tasks just kept falling by the wayside.

I was also completely overwhelmed by the discussions taking place in the Google site that was set up to support the project. It seems like most of the regular contributors were already Web developers whose skill set far surpassed mine. Many were already talking about CSS in the early stages when we were learning basic HTML. I felt intimidated and just kept out of discussions because, quite frankly, I had nothing of value to add.

When I did express my failure within the group, Jamie Curle, the course organiser, was very supportive and encouraged me to take things at my own speed. I felt supported, and want to thank Jamie for that.

I did learn quite a lot throughout the process, but more about me and how I prefer to learn and less about code! There were no webinars supporting this course, and I felt like a committed time where I had to sit down and devote myself to taking information in would have been helpful for me. Really early on I was struggling with some basic questions I needed answered, but they seemed so lame I didn’t want to ask them in the google site because I was watching threads that were way above my level of understanding. I needed a reference point where terms were explained, but really, I could have sourced this myself.

This is probably one of the first times I have been intimidated by course content, and I took the tack of ‘push it to the back of the list of things to do’ rather than meeting it head on. I’ve watched students take this course of action over my many years of teaching, but now I feel like I truly understand why they do so. It’s not a good feeling being out of your depth. This experience will certainly help me to have greater empathy with students encountering difficulties, and hopefully I’ll be more open to varying the ways I deliver instruction.

Today Jamie announced that the course is ending before the CSS part begins, because he is having difficulty managing the preparation and follow up needed for the course, along with the demands his own design business.  For me, a relief, for others, disappointing. I totally understand where Jamie is coming from. There comes a time when you need to look after yourself and your own mental health. I have over-committed myself in recent years, and this year made a determined effort to pull back a bit. I think it’s made a difference to my interactions with those closest to me and that’s important. Hopefully Jamie will feel that his decision has been a positive one for him personally.

So there you have it, public failure I am.

But that’s OK. I’ll live on to see another day, and maybe one day the opportunity will arise where I can immerse myself totally in understanding the basics of coding. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for an intensive workshop in some exotic location somewhere warm!

HTML and CSS: Week 2 reflection.

I am failing P2PU. A very public admission on my behalf.

I’m on the back foot, I have to admit, and I am going to have to do some serious catching up this weekend. I know, I can hear you saying, “You said that last week”, and I did. I’ve underestimated how hard it is to devote time to something that is difficult for me. It’s a bit like me and maths; we don’t really gel. I prefer to do other things, and my motivation levels aren’t exactly high when I know I have to tackle something that challenges me.

That being said, it has been a particularly busy week at work. It was Literature week at my school, and we hosted authors for four days out of the five. Sometimes there were three authors visiting within the course of a day. Making sure it all went smoothly, and making sure people felt comfortable and well catered for was demanding. I found myself going home exhausted, and too tired to tackle the difficulties of the unknown.

So, my admission here is that I need to complete tasks from Week 1 and 2, and then take a look at what’s been posted for week 3. It’s my great hope that my Week 3 reflection will be a happier tale than this one.

I’m very grateful to Jackson Bates, who left a comment today that included a YouTube video (see below) he used when starting out with code. I’ve just watched the first 12 minutes, and already it’s made more sense to me than anything else so far. In my Week 1 reflection I said I thought I needed to be shown in order to gain understanding. That’s exactly what this video does. It tells me what the code means and how changes to it impact on what a page looks like. I’ve found it very helpful; the path forward seems less tangled already. Jackson has also offered to answer my embarrassing questions, and he just might find himself facing a couple of those over the next week!

I know failure can be turned around. The very fact that I have to publicly post reflections is enough to make me try and beat this one. Jamie, stay posted, I just may get somewhere this week.

(Thank goodness Jamie is not posting Week 4 until June 15th. Breathing space!)

Week 1 reflection: HTML and CSS from the beginning

Lesson number one.

Don’t get sick in the first week of a P2PU course.

I’ve been trying to deal with a virus and still go to work. Bad idea. If I had have taken the necessary time off early on, then I might have warded off the problems of the last week. Achingly sore throat, no voice, developing into hacking debilitating cough. All sapped me of energy and I didn’t spend enough time working on the requirements of the HTML/CSS course.

Jamie set us the task of getting to know the people in the groups we’ve been allocated to. I did that, because I’m good at making contact and feel comfortable sharing information. I’m in a group with Alejandro, Jesus, Justine and James. They hail from Mexico, Venuzeula, Florida and Sweden and all of them seem to be a lot more adept with their skill base than I am. That’s made things seem pretty daunting. I’ve wanted to ask questions, but I’ve found myself in the uncomfortable position of feeling not up to the task. It seems to me that the questions I need answering are all pretty basic and it’s somewhat embarrassing to have to ask them. If there’s something I can take away from this last week, it’s the ability to have greater empathy for the kids who are struggling with concepts. That’s me right now, and it’s not a great space to be in.

I figured out the text editor I needed when using a Mac, and tried writing out what I assume is pretty basic code over and over. I haven’t committed it to memory, and haven’t spent enough time doing it. I can see I am going to have to devote time to catching up now that I’m starting to feel a bit better. I want to know how coders know how far to indent code for specific lines, but once again, it seems like a lame question to ask. My take is that you just have to get a handle on the indentations and where they need to lie, and then use the tab to move to a space near where it begins and use the arrow key to get it in the right position. I’ll have to spend more time on this rote learning task in the coming week and hope I can catch up.

I haven’t done the view source exercise -another thing that I need to catch up on. It’s not hard, just compromised because I’ve been getting home from work and pretty much doing what needs to be done for the kids and then trying to sleep in between coughing.

Jamie isn’t providing video lectures, but to be honest, I think something like that would help someone like me. I feel like I need to be shown before I try and do stuff by myself, probably because this is so new to me. I haven’t used the IRC chat room, and probably should have. Like I said before, my questions seem so base level, and it feels a bit embarrassing having to ask them!!

I do want to learn from this course, but that means I have to do the work. I am going to have to commit double the time this week to it so that I can feel like I’m on top of it. Wish me luck!

Why I want to study HTML & CSS from the beginning

A graphical despiction of a very simple html d...
Image via Wikipedia

OK. Part two of my quest to be a person who understands code.

For those of you unfamiliar with what code is, it’s the parade of letters and brackets and delimiters that makes the pages on the Web look the way they do. Without code, we’d be looking at computer screens full of boring reams of text and numbers. There would be no fancy buttons to click, no aesthetically appealing anything much to hold our interest. That’s what it was like in my College days, when I’d walk into the bowels of a primitive computer lab in what must have been 1986, and look at guys (because everyone in there was male!) staring at green screens typing in letters and symbols. Ahhh…the folly of my ways. If only I’d been paying a little more attention? If I had, I’m pretty sure my bank balance would be looking a lot healthier than it is right now!

Over the last couple of years, I’ve become a whole lot more interested in what is the backbone of the web: code. Because I’ve been using tools in my classrooms that sometimes require me to embed code to make things appear, I’ve begun to realise there are gaps in my knowledge base that need filling. I’m pretty sure I could continue on and function perfectly well without knowing the ins and outs of code, but there’s something in me telling me it’s important that I make some effort to have an understanding of how things work.

I’ve also begun to look closely at what we do in the school I teach at. We don’t offer formal ICT classes. We are a 1:1 school, and we expect that our teachers use technology in a meaningful way in their classrooms. But that leaves a pretty big gap when it comes to student understanding about the workings of the web. I don’t want the kids I teach to miss out on opportunities. I figure if I gain understanding, I can find a way to transfer my knowledge to them, and I think that’s important.

I’m hoping to learn how to have a working understanding of how HTML and CSS work. I’d like to be confident enough to construct a webpage myself; to be able to tweak pre-existing code to do something that can change the look and feel of a page. I’d like to be able to participate in discussions where I felt like a participant rather than an observer.

My previous post contained questions that I had to give myself a score on. I tried to be brutally honest, but I do have to admit that I’ve never really been able to bend a spoon using the powers of my mind, despite the hours of practice I gave to the task after seeing Uri Geller do it on The Done Lane Show when I was eleven. I think I was pretty straight up on the other answers though, and my series of ‘0’ responses attests to this. I know what it is, but I have limited knowledge of how to do it!

What I do know is that you can change the look of a page by tweaking code. Occasionally I play with the sizing of objects by changing the numbers in the code, but that’s about as far as I go. I’d love to feel confident enough  to just inherently know what it is I need to do to significantly change something.

Jamie has asked participants to tell him what makes them happy. Plenty of things.

My son still holding my hand when we are walking in public places.

A student who appreciates what you’ve done for them and tells you with a smile.

My dog who greets me effusively every time I walk in the door.

My daughter sharing stories with me as we drive to and from school.

My husband telling me he loves me.

My parents being proud of me still, and supporting me in everything I do.

My close friends sharing laughs, and sometimes tears, over a glass of the good stuff.

Writing this blog.

Sharing my thinking with others and feeling like I’m making a dent in the universe.

Jamie also asked us to tell him what we’re passionate about.

Easy answer. All of the above.

HTML & CSS from the beginning – week 0

I’ve expressed interest in a Peer 2 Peer University course, and Jamie Curle, the guy running the course, has asked potential participants to write two blog posts as a pre-requisite task that will help him to identify suitable candidates. This is necessary, because there are 20 places in this course, but around 60 people have expressed interest.

So, these next two posts are make or break moments for me. Will I have what it takes? What exactly will it take? I have no clue really – I’ll just do my best to be honest and try and inject a bit of me into my writing. The course is, as the title of this post suggests, about HTML and CSS coding -something I’ve become increasingly interested in over the past couple of years. My first task is to do as follows:

I want you to rate yourself on a scale of 0-10 where 0 is ‘none at all’ and 10 is ‘lots and lots’ on the following questions.

  • I understand html – 5
  • I understand the concepts behind HTML – 5
  • I understand how to view the source of web pages – 3
  • I understand how to structure a HTML document correctly -2
  • I understand the anatomy of a html tag – 2
  • I understand how to use the right tag for the right purpose – 2
  • I understand the difference between classes and id’s – 0
  • I understand what makes a good class name and a good id – 0
  • I can ‘think in html’ – 0
  • I understand css – 0
  • I understand the concepts behind CSS – 0
  • I understand how to view the source of CSS documents – 0
  • I understand the best method to attach CSS to a HTML document in any given context – 0
  • I understand how to apply style rules to a HTML document – 0
  • I understand the general syntax of CSS – 0
  • I understand the basic CSS selectors – 0
  • I understand the advanced CSS selectors – 0
  • I understand how different browsers interpret CSS – 0
  • I can ‘think’ in CSS – 0
  • I am able to bend spoons with my mind – Can’t everyone?
  • I understand the quirkiness of browsers – 4
  • I am motivated to learn – 10
  • I am enjoying myself – 10

Now, in our current education system, I’m pretty sure my responses would equate to a ‘you are not a suitable candidate’. But in the Peer 2 Peer University system, I’m hedging my bets that my final two responses hold a fair bit of weight. I’m hoping so anyway.

So, Jamie, part one completed. While I’m on a roll, I just may leap into part two.

Stay tuned…

Google’s book to help us understand the Web.

Google have produced a very handy online book explaining how the Web works. 20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web provides explanations about Cloud Computing, HTML, Web apps,  browsers, privacy, and a number of other topics that many people would have no clue about. 

Most of us use the Web on a daily basis, but many people have no idea how it works or how they can read the information in an URL to determine the nature or validity of a site. The explanations in this book are simply stated, and easy to understand. As you’d expect, the book makes quite a few references to the Google Chrome browser, but that’s fair enough given that they’ve gone to the effort of producing the book and making it freely available for us to use.

We really owe it to ourselves to have a deeper understanding of the Web, especially as it becomes more and more pervasive in our lives. I’ll certainly be using this book with the students I teach.