My MOOC Explorations Continue

It’s been a few months since my last post. That’s because I got totally immersed in learning coding, specifically Ruby, far more seriously than I had expected. In the last two months, I got very sick. But now I am back.

First of all, the Capstone Python class on Coursera got postponed from a January start date. It finally started in early April and I have completed it and thus completed the excellent 5-course Python series, taught by Prof. Chuck Severance of the University of Michigan.

While waiting for the Capstone class to start, I stumbled upon the Flatiron School‘s  Learn platform which I really enjoyed and wrote about in my previous blog. In no time I found myself being pulled deeper and deeper into Learn. In February, I formally signed up as a fee-paying online student on Learn and have put in a good amount of time everyday (until I got sick.)

Like many of today’s online teaching / learning platforms, Learn has also been going through continuous changes. So not everything is 100% smooth – but then what is 100% trouble-free in life? The bottom line is: I have learned a tremendous amount through  Learn. I will write about it in my future blogs.

This entry is in response to Learn‘s assignment question: “Why did you decide to learn software development?”

It may be a while before I will call myself a “software developer,” but I am getting to understand what “software development” means. Computer technology permeates our lives, so we should, and we must, gain some basic understanding of how it works. Programming languages are also (surprisingly) interesting – so why not learn some programming? In a previous post, I argued that every teacher should learn to code a little. I have come to believe everybody should learn some programming, because, as Massimo Banzi, the creator of Arduino, succinctly said:

… it’s important to be masters of the technology.”
– Massimo Banzi –


Arduino (H)appiness!

So Santa brought me an Arduino UNO – a perfect toy for a programmer-electronic gadget-wiz wanna-be. All the fun in one tiny package!

My kit came with various configurations and all the necessary parts needed to make things happen, such as dimming an LED bulb or connected a photo sensor to control the dimmer. In the video clip below, my Arduino was reading and reporting temperatures in real time.

Sure I followed the diagram laid out in the little booklet that came with the kit; sure all the parts have been supplied and calculations done for me ahead of time. It was extremely gratifying nonetheless – like when I first knitted a hat, or sewed a pouch, or swapped out a computer hard drive for a bigger one.

Arduino – It does things!

Wish every school kid could have one.

Having fun with my #arduino – it's reading and reporting temperatures!

A video posted by Yumei Leventhal (@ymidtownl) on


Massimo Banzi on building Arduino

I think it’s important to be masters of the technology.”
– Massimo Banzi –

When I think of programmers, the word “geeks” often comes to mind. And I see a straight line connecting the geeks to the highly technical and abstract aspect of knowledge: math, code, computers. Yet, time and again, I find myself in awe of the profound insights from such geeks. I have always been a big fan of Steve Job’s 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, but what Massimo Banzi, creator (or one of the creators) of Arduino, said during an interview is equally impressive. See for yourself:

I’m grateful to learn about Arduino and Massimo Banzi in my Coursera class, Programming for Everyone. And I thought I was only going to learn coding!


Critical thinking in this digital world

I just watched an incredible interview of Massimi Banzi, the creator of Arduino, a compact computer circuit board (that’s the best I can describe it at the moment).

Watching people such as Banzi, Guido von Rossum, or Steve Jobs, talk about what they do and why they do it, I cannot help but feel a sense of awe. Surely these people succeeded because they were good programmers, and they persisted, and they were lucky… But there is no doubt these people also were sharp thinkers.

Listening to Banzi talk about the why one needs to learn how to program, one is witnessing critical thinking in action:

“… the iPod is … the TV set of the twenty-first century.” Because the iPod is a one-directional device, it does not encourage creative participation, or in Banzi’s words, in the participation of the “creation in this digital space.”

He proceeds to say:

“… clearly, if you know how to design and build things, you will affect the world that surrounds you. If you are not able to participate in the world of creation in the digital space, you are left out. Somebody else is going to design your world at some point. If there is no …  innovation, if there is renovation … inside the marketplace, then one company decides that’s the way you do a certain thing and that becomes the only answer to a certain question and nobody stops to debate that … it’s important to be the masters of the technology.”

Can’t get any better than that!