Mary Dickson Diaz

Code, Life, Learning

Month: August 2015

voices that matter

I came across this article by Rainier Beach HS student Ifrah Abshir. It’s terrific, I encourage everyone to read the whole thing:

Fighting Inequality In Seattle, Students Lead Protests to Change School and Transit Policies

Some highlights (emphasis mine):

As a black and Muslim immigrant, I could write for days about the ways in which my family has experienced racism in the United States – both at the individual and institutional levels. Being a young person, one of the primary sources of the institutional racism I experience is the public school system.

The school I currently attend is Rainier Beach High School, located in South Seattle. Although Seattle is one of the most homogeneous major cities in the country, with nearly 70% of the population being white, my neighborhood in the South End is very much the opposite. In fact, a few years ago the neighborhood where my school is located, 98118, was considered to be among the most diverse zip codes in the country.

At Beach, we have approximately 95% students of color and over 50 languages spoken, making us the most diverse school in the Seattle School District. Nearly nine in ten students here receive free/reduced lunch, meaning the majority of us come from low income families, many of whom are immigrants. These statistics are exactly why I selected Beach when choosing a high school. I wanted to receive my education in a diverse multi-cultural setting. I didn’t want to be the only brown girl in my class. I wanted to belong.

Rainier Beach HS has experienced a renaissance in the last few years, sparked largely by the new International Baccalaureate program that “came to Rainier Beach largely at the insistence of South End parents desperate to make the school more attractive to families.” They also have a TEALS program wherein Microsoft employees teach classes in computer science. The author of the piece above credits this program with sparking a love for computer programming:

The editorial calls for two immediate changes for Rainier Beach students:

#1: End Seattle Public School’s ‘Walk-Zone rule’ that requires students who live within 2.5 miles of their school to walk or pay for their own public transportation. This negatively impacts low-income students who are less likely to have access to a car or a ride to school. As Ifrah lays out:

“The cost of a round trip bus ticket to school is $3 a day. To put this in perspective, remember that 88% of students at RBHS have free or reduced lunch. This means their family’s income is low enough that they cannot afford $1.50 a day for lunch. If a student cannot afford $1.50 a day for lunch, how can they be expected to pay for a bus that costs twice as much as lunch? Does that make any sense at all?”

I live in this zip code, and I technically fall within the ‘Walk-Zone.’ Google Maps says it would take me 45 minutes to walk to the school. That’s 45 minutes along the city’s most dangerous street (though I applaud the changes the city has finally started to make, narrowing parts of Rainier from four lane to two lane with turn lane). I would definitely not walk this, and I wouldn’t drive either: I would take the bus. Get these kids ORCA cards, that seems like a no-brainer.

hell no, that's not happening.

hell no, that’s not happening.

#2: Renovate the building to get it up to code both structurally and with the latest innovations in learning technology:

‘Built in 1960, our school is the only one in the district that has not yet received a full renovation. Just last year we had nearly 15 power outages, some of them causing us to attend school in the dark and cold, or even to close school for the day. Our school still has chalkboards, whereas schools in whiter and more affluent neighborhoods have smart boards and more advanced technological tools that enhance student learning. Each year, students here organize walk outs and protests, and attend school board and city hall meetings – but we only receive promises of a new building. Promises that go unfulfilled.

Students who face additional barriers to learning due to the challenges of living in poverty deserve more learning tools, not less. I mean, watch this: students walk out over aging school. That’s from 2012!

One last bit of insult to injury:

‘After the Day of Social Action, a representative from the school board came and visited our site, telling us the district had heard us loud and clear and would work to achieve the changes we asked for as quickly as possible. The school board suggested we send letters to the mayor as a follow-up, because they would need the city council to be on board. Interestingly enough, when I spoke to the mayor, he told me we should be speaking with the school district to get the results we were looking for.’

Government bureaucracies famous for giving people the run-around, why should our kiddos receive different treatment?

***

I share because I’m inspired by Ifrah and students like her, activist students demanding equal educational opportunities from school and city systems that have largely ignored them for too long. I’m inspired because it’s working: since the IB program, the school’s graduation rates are up to 79%, greater than the district average.

Whatever path my new career takes me, I hope it’s one where I can contribute to empowering young people through technology and direct action. If my past work in education reform has taught me anything, it’s that change will come from students and parent advocates. Doing things *to* a community doesn’t work. Rainier Beach HS is a stunning example of what’s possible when a community bands together to yell “this is what we need,” and makes it happen. My hope is that the changes that have worked will be sustainable after initial grant funding runs out, and that calls for even more school improvements (like ending the walk zones and upgrading the building) will be impossible to ignore. If this student is any indication of the student self-efficacy brewing at RBHS, they won’t go down without a fight.

reviewing the rails tutorials

so you want to build pizza dot net? try rails!

so you want to build pizza dot net? try Rails!

Hey everyone!  This is my last week as a ‘person of leisure’ before class starts up in full force next Monday.  I received a coursework invitation, and the first assignment is to answer the question: “How was your Rails tutorial?” to which I respond, “…which one?

Before I even saw the question I was considering a run-down on the Rails online tutorials I tried, what I learned, recommended order, and which ones are worth salt. So, here goes! These are roughly ranked in “do this first” order unless otherwise stated.

Michael Hartl – Rails Tutorial

oops my cow is upside down

oops my cow is upside down

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diving into the oh heck

This is a process post. Or, how I think through possible courses of action when I hit a roadblock.

Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 8.41.12 PM

I’ve been making my way through Ruby the Hard Way bit by bit and I had a lot of fun this weekend with exercise 45, “you make a game.” This book and the Python version are both great learning tools for the language, and now that I’m getting to the end I see it’s a great tool for learning the basics of web deployment as well. *More than once* I have gone off on a side tangent and scoured the internet for a solution to my problem, only to be redirected back to the book and find that it addresses my question several exercises later.

I like my game, a simple text adventure based on Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘Diving into the Wreck,’ so much that I want to share it on the web with you, and that kicked off the latest rabbit hole. I still haven’t found a solution to this, so if any of you out there know enough to help me out, I would greatly appreciate it!

Here’s where I’m at:

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building the #notbot

It started with Peter and the Wolf.

Wolves

I’ve been wanting to play with Markoved text for some time, using books available in the public domain, easily accessible via Gutenberg. The idea in my head was to create a Twitter bot that would mash Peter Pan together with Call of the Wild (although later I realized that Beowulf would be the better option) and tweet lines from the merged books. As I dug into this project, I realized that the mash-up text wasn’t really interesting enough to hold its own as a bot, but I did like combining different texts to see the results. After while I realized that the *more interesting* challenge would be to build an app where any two (or more) Gutenberg texts can be combined. Behold, the #notbot! Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 7.55.06 PM

(And yes, I got my Peter and the Wolf in there.) Go play, and then come back and I will show you how I built it:

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memo to my younger self

Consider this a #tbt.

sophomore English major w/ill-advised eyebrow ring

I’ve made a lot of decisions (or, in failing to make a decision, reinforced the path I was on) re: education, career, and life, and for the most part I regret none of it. All my cumulative life experiences exist to put me exactly where I need to be today. And here is a good place! So in the hypothetical “what would you say to your college self if you could go back” I’d probably say — this is a nice gig so enjoy it, be kind to your friends/family and yourself. Everything is going to take longer than you think now, but you’ll get there.

You know: heavy on validation, easy on specifics.

If I could, though, I’d be like JUST ONE THING: will you please take at least one statistics class and intro to economics. At some point in my college tenure I decided that I didn’t want to study those things, so I didn’t. I, in fact, *rejected a major in journalism* because it required those electives.

And there’s precedent for me taking college classes not because I had to but because it seemed like the right thing to do — throughout my k-12 schooling, “calculus” always seemed like the pinnacle of stuff smart people learn, so I took calculus. I bet if my older, wiser, more attractive self came to visit college Mary, I could have convinced myself to take some stats classes. This has always been my Achilles Heel as I’ve explored career paths that involve any type of number crunching (and most do).

So let’s talk data science.

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riding rails (for fun and profit)

At the end of my interview, the instructor asked, “Soooo… what are you doing in September?”

And just like that, I snagged a spot in Code Fellows coveted Ruby on Rails development accelerator, an 8 week full-time bootcamp designed to jump-start a career in web development. Hi-fives for everyone!

I was nervous but well-prepared going into the interview. Keeping this website and writing about what I’m learning has been a good way to internalize it and work out “talking points.” I was glad that I took some time to clean up my portfolio site (www.marythought.com) since that was one of the first questions asked, “do you have a projects site we can look at?” Why YES indeed I do!

I have a month to prepare, so I updated The Plan with what I’m working on before class starts. In a nutshell:

  • get some more perspectives on Ruby on Rails, and learn as much as I can about Rails apps
  • review JavaScript (two weeks of the DA will focus on this) and practice it via some hands-on projects
  • bone up on algorithms and core programing concepts

I’m also going to try to take care of some of those pesky “life” tasks. I finally renewed the car registration (they give you two years in Washington before you have to get an emissions test), and I need to set up my new health insurance and convert to life as a married person.

At times throughout this process I’ve felt a bit aimless, so it’s good to be entering into a period of intense, highly structured time focused on becoming career-ready. And, much as I’m currently feeling “let’s get this show ON THE ROAD” it all happened exactly when it needed to, and not before.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. More adventures to come!

watch someone code something weird

Last week Darius Kazemi made a twitter bot via live-code. It’s really fun to see his thought process and trial/error. He plays with RiTa for JavaScript, a natural language processor (which ironically, might be exactly what I need for a non-bot project… stay tuned!).

He uses Node, JavaScript, and something called “grunt” to initiate the project (starts at 7 mins in if you want to skip ahead).

Josh walked in while I was watching and commented “Darius is such a great teacher.” He is! Love to see this live coding.

Maybe I will attempt a live-code (or record-code) session. Could be a good way to get over my fear of video and also impose a strict “make something in an hour” timeline.

I have a month to play (more on that to come as well) so this is all timely. 🙂 Enjoy!

p.s. this post is for Jessie, my favorite/only reader.

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