The Active Record By The Starter League

The Starter League, founded in 2011, is a small school in Chicago that teaches Rails, Ruby, HTML/CSS, and User Experience Design. The classes are intensive, three months long, one to three days a week, and taught in person.

The Ruby Playground

By Jeff Cohen on January 28, 2013

Our Web Development students often tell me that the program is pretty intense. It's above and beyond the 10 hours of class time you may have heard about. When I've been asked to describe our program, I sometimes say the word immersive but even that doesn't do it justice.

During student candidate interviews, applicants learn about the sheer depth and weight of the course: an intense class over three hours long, three times a week; a couple of weekend hackathons; working with colleagues on a weekly basis on class projects; demo day team formation and application building; lunchtime seminars and workshops on both technical and entreprenuerial topics; and of course, the challenge of building and rebuilding applications that we send out as challenges, in a near-continuous stream over the 11-week haul toward Demo Day.

The most oft-repeated phrase I hear from students at the After Demo Day Party is (paraphrasing), "Man, that was a TON of work. I don't know how I got through it.... and I learned more than I could have imagined."

So this quarter, what did I do? I piled it on higher with the Ruby Playground: a 90-minute session once or twice a week. It's all geared around one my central philosophies that one of the best ways to learn about something is to play with it.

When I was a little kid, I don't recall the preschool teacher giving a lecture on how to use the sandbox. The best way to learn about a sandbox is, well, to play in it. Trial and error. Continuous feedback. Serendipity. What does the sand do if you run it between your fingers? What happens if you try to pile it up too high? Notice how some of it will run down the sides. Oops, I spilled some water in the sand - wait a minute, that's cool! The sand sticks together!

The new Playground is intended to provide extra time for Q&A, and some fun challenges, like writing an app to deal hands of poker, a rock-paper-scissors game against the computer, and a dice game. We will also be learning about object-oriented theory , some tricks in the Rails console, and how to use inspect on HTTP traffic traveling through your computer. And like any good playground, there won't just be one kind of apparatus. I have a lot of fun ideas for this quarter, including some basic artifical intelligence algorithms and perhaps playing with an Arduino kit.

So if you're applying for the Web Development course, get ready for a full-time program designed to challenge you, stretch your imagination, and unlock something new in your life.

And now it even comes with a playground! What could be better than that?