Monday, July 24, 2017

Book Review: Hello Ruby-Adventures in Coding

Book Review: Hello Ruby-Adventures in Coding
Linda Liukas
New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2015

Can be used with printable and playable features of
The author and publisher are pushing this as an early childhood, family 21st century coding book, but it truly is also extremely infusible into any k-3 literacy program enabling STEM learning and the ABC’s of programming.

Why I, a literacy educator, chose it:  The cover,  with its fierce looking Ruby and computer icon, dares the reader to accompany her on her adventures in coding.  Most literacy educators and family storytellers are ever so familiar with the key elements of the adventure quest.  These books offer the reader a hero, perhaps more than one, plus a challenge.  The hero makes a plan to surmount the challenge in order to complete a quest and achieve a goal or get a treasure.  Along the way the hero often has to come up with new strategies, overcome unexpected obstacles, and learn new skills or information. 

In this book, all of these storytelling components are expertly tapped by programmer, illustrator, and author, Linda Liukas, in service of engaging young learners, their families,  and (this reviewer hopes) early childhood educators. To that end she offers immediately engaging, childhood relevant, games, paper dolls, secret language experiences, and more that render real key programming and coding terms for young learners.

The author believes play is at the core of learning. . . and that the fundamentals of computational thinking  include: break[ing] big problems into small ones, look[ing] for patterns, creat[ing] step by step plans and being creative.  That sounds like a tall STEM and programming order for a child age 4-8. But the intrepid Ruby befriends penguins, robots, foxes, a snow leopard and Django with his pet python, as part of her quest to find five gems.  Her adventure translates real life and whimsical child adventures into real 21st century child-oriented activities. These include constructing game boards, creating patterns, developing a programming keyboard, paper doll clothes, and tools on the site that can be used interactively.

This work can function as a standalone captivating storybook that makes key coding terms such as strings, numbers, booleons, and algorithms come alive. Additionally, It offers much as an interactive, early childhood website with printable, customized to child, products.  It uses the adventure plot and child heroes to translate complex coding terms into relatable aspects of the everyday lives of children and the adults who teach them.  After the story of Ruby’s adventure to identify the sources of various gems, the second part of this book includes activities that dip into the everyday lives of young readers as they authenticate abstract coding glossary STEM  vocabulary. 

For example, the young audience for this story of peer adventurers in coding, can: sequence everyday play or school activities, deconstruct a drawing or picture created or chosen by the audience, can print out Ruby paper dolls from the site in appropriate dress for a special event using pattern recognition, can string print and design a personal keyboard using the site, can draw a map of the route from home to school or to a favorite place using algorithms and sequence, or best of all for many in its audience, use data structures to create a secret code language. 

Beyond the activities, the plot and the optimistic “I can do it” characters of Ruby and Django empathize resilience in terms of finding and trying multiple plans or constructs to overcome obstacles that prevent them from immediately attaining their goals.  Ruby knows that solving big problems like finding gems requires mapping carefully, reading instructions, and breaking down big problems into tiny problems stuck together.

Plan making is a part of Ruby’s and Django’s approach to life and Django eagerly helps Ruby when her first plan does not work .  Ruby realizes that learning the penguins’ language will help her find her gems. Ruby knows how to loop a ladder by building one step and going over it five times.  Ruby learns how to give clear instructions to the foxes so they can get their planting done.  Of course, beyond these aptitudes and coding language for success competencies, these coding precepts can also serve as literacy and life lessons for success in a variety of relationship, community, family and collaboration successes.

How this work can be used:  The beautifully illustrated maps and games grounded in Ruby and Django’s adventures can be copied from the book with the accessible, early childhood traditional materials clearly listed. The hints icons on the activity pages invite the child audience and family, teachers and others to find the coding realities of their own lives, home environments, and schools.  Algorithms, functions and abstractions about baking, coloring, dress, music, and climbing suddenly translate into child-centered reality.  The work is laid out in chapters with engaging and recognizable, child friendly characters embodying the glossary words for the teacher, parent, or others in the back of the print work.  Unlike many child-centered, informational books that teach coding on an appropriate level, but using precise templates, both this book and web resource encourage the audience to use blank templates and develop their own game boards or models for this very open project.

Since coding is a key literacy 21st century language, teaching it should not be the province of only educators explicitly trained in coding or STEM for early childhood. Nor should parents and storytellers be excluded from integrating this language and its coding for life success lessons of resiliency, problem solving, and collaboration into their rich interaction with learners.  All early childhood learners and literacy learning adults can join Ruby and Django in these ongoing adventures to infuse coding for life lessons into their flowering, multi-content learning.

Dr. Rose Reissman is the founder of the Writing Institute, now replicated in 145 schools including the Manchester Charter Middle School in Pittsburgh. She is a featured author in New York State Union Teachers Educators Voice 2016 and was filmed discussing ESL student leadership literary strategies developed at Ditmas IS 62, a Brooklyn public intermediate school.

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