Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How I Nearly Failed 7th Grade Computer Class

I starting teaching a computing essentials class this week. I've got a good group of students who seem to be really sharp and very eager to learn. After getting an idea of where everyone's computer skill set was at, I told them the story about how I nearly failed my first computer class.

My first exposure to computers was in the 7th grade. I was thrown into a computer programming class despite never having touched a computer before in my life. We were learning to program in BASIC on the APPLE II. Writing a program consisted of typing a line number and then typing out the command. Once you were ready to run the program and see the results, you might have two dozen lines of code. The problem was, if you made a mistake somewhere in your code, there wasn't a way to go back to directly edit that line like in a word processor. And I was always making mistakes in my code. My programs never ran on the first try. As the assignments got longer, rather than going back to re-type the whole thing, I just wouldn't turn in the assignment.

Near the end of the quarter, when Mrs. O'Shea pitched a bitch fit about the poor grades in the class, she hurled a dig at me: "And Thomas Mac has an F- which I didn't think was even possible".

I tried to take the jab in good humor, but the laughter of my fellow classmates made me bristle. I stood up and declared "What do you want me to do? Re-type the whole thing when the program won't run? I don't have time to do that".

The way Mrs. O'Shea looked at me, I could have sworn that I had grown a third eyeball or something. She scoffingly said "Oh, my dear boy....you do know that, when you have an error in your program, you only have to re-type the one line that's causing the error?".

Mrs. O'Shea's snarky tone along with the eruption of laughter from my fellow classmates motivated me to get an A in the class. For the next two weeks, I spent hours after school using my friend Matt's computer to finish all of the work I had neglected to turn in. At the end of the quarter, I received an A in the class plus some measure of my pride back.

After getting all of my assignments to run properly, I found that I had an aptitude for it and ended up actually going into that field. Hopefully, the story, as I imparted it to my new students, serves as a lesson that, even from the most humble beginnings, a modicum of greatness can be achieved.

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