Hack Reactor Instructor On Teaching Methods, Light Bulb Moments & His Musical Past
Allen Price didn’t know that he would end up in the tech field, let alone one of Hack Reactor’s main instructors. For a long time his passion was music. He studied the trombone and piano in college, teaching and playing in jazz bands and ensembles after he graduated. His five years teaching music to junior high and high school students showed him how powerful education can be.
“I really enjoyed being able to see the tangible progress in my students,” he recalls. “I got to watch them go from ‘I can barely make a note happen’ to ‘I’m fully capable of reading music and performing on my own.’”
Price’s introduction to programming came through music as well, while working as an audio/video technician at a large church in Little Rock, Arkansas. He began automating certain workflows within his job, and discovered that was the part of the job he enjoyed most. As he looked further into software developing, his interest grew, and somewhere along the way he heard about Hack Reactor. Price took a weekend and flew to San Francisco, where he met a couple of the founders and a lot of students.
“Every person I talked to had only question: ‘have you applied yet?’ The next day, before I got on the plane I did the admissions challenge.”
Allen Price, a lecturer at Hack Reactor, taught music for years before he turned to coding.
Five months later, he walked into Hack Reactor as a student.
“I remember being floored on day one by the way in which the class was taught,” he recalls. “I felt this sense of regret that I missed so many opportunities to teach my students the way they teach here. It really drove home how good a school it was.”
Price explains this teaching philosophy, which he now employs on a daily basis, as a dialogue between teacher and students. Rather than a one-way stream of information, in which students are left to their own to figure out the material, Hack Reactor lectures use regular check-ins with students to assess their uptake of the material. This approach dramatically improves comprehension, and has positive effects on the approach students take.
“I feel like the teaching style enabled me to feel safe asking questions and to get things wrong,” says Price. “I didn’t feel that sense of competition where everyone is trying to guard their own reputation. Instead I could focus on what I didn’t understand and how to fill in those gaps.”
Now he is the one facilitating this environment. His post-graduation role as a Hacker-in-Residence (our three month apprenticeship program) evolved into a trial period as a lecturer. Price eventually signed on for the full-time role, where he joined long-time instructor Fred Zirdung in early 2015.
“I’ve been working very closely with Fred who continues to offer me mentorship,” says Price.
The two of them discuss each lesson at a detailed level to make sure it is as good as it can be.
“We’re always making small improvements to the curriculum,” says Price. “After a lecture we’ll evaluate what went really well and what went could have gone better. We might notice that there were a lot of questions around a certain concept, and we’ll try to discern the central point of those questions. A lot of the best changes are made immediately after the lecture. We’ll tweak some visual metaphor or a diagram that we use.”
These adjustments, combined with bigger changes, such as the addition of the React sprint, make the Hack Reactor curriculum a constantly evolving object.
Just like when he taught music, Price’s favorite moments are when he gets to witness students making a leap forward in their abilities.
“I was going over prototype delegation relationships with a cohort a while back,” Price recalls. “Afterward, there were ten students who still had a lot of curiosity, a lot of questions. So instead of going to dinner, we busted out the white board and talked through their questions. Watching the light bulb come on for each of those ten students was so thrilling. Lightbulb moments are addicting.”
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