Ryan's Journey from Learning to Teaching

We interview a 12-year-old Primer kid, Ryan Graves, to learn about his journey from building his own coding projects to creating his own coding course for other kids.

Connie Lin


Ryan Graves reached out to us a few weeks ago with a crazy idea: could he use Primer Rooms to create his own coding class? We were immediately in. We gave him access to host and create his own Rooms, and now he’s teaching other kids how to code and build their own websites.

What was your experience like when you first joined Primer? 

I first heard about Primer through my dad, signed up for a free trial, and attended Rooms. I originally wanted to join Game-makers Club as my home base, but I don’t like using Scratch since now I just do my own coding. I’ve made friends by being in Rooms with the same kids repeatedly.

How did you get into coding and what appeals to you about it? 

When I was first homeschooled in 5th grade, I learned from my dad and did some projects for the year. Now I code quite a lot—I have a huge 65 MB folder in my computer for my coding projects. (Check out his projects on Github here!).

I like that in coding there’s a lot to do, a lot to build. There’s a lot of repetition but I’m ok with that if I can choose what to do with it. Different coding languages can do different things. Right now my dad and I are coding a project on Ruby on Rails. 

Why are you interested in teaching other kids how to code on Primer? 

I hosted coding lessons for other kids during the summer when COVID hit and saw that it was really successful. I created my lesson content in bullet-point form on Google Docs so I can iterate along the way. I wanted to repeat that so when I saw people creating their own Primer Rooms I thought it’d be cool to host my coding lessons on Primer. This is my first large-scale project on Primer. 

The biggest barrier right now is getting the word out and convincing the kids who are new to coding that “oh hey it’s not that bad.” Coding is something you can learn. Everyone that has taken my class so far said it was amazing.

All I want is for more kids to be enthusiastic about coding. I think people are hesitant towards building things in code vs. other games like Minecraft because coding is socially portrayed as challenging and really complex. Things like “Hour of Code” or Scratch help give kids a peek into understanding what coding is, but oftentimes people don’t think they can make a leap from Scratch to HTML/CSS/Javascript. The biggest barrier right now is getting the word out and convincing the kids who are new to coding that “oh hey it’s not that bad.” Coding is something you can learn. Everyone that has taken my class so far said it was amazing.

Do you think Minecraft or Scratch can be a gateway to getting more kids interested in coding? 

Definitely, that’s the point of it. But the major cut-off is actually swapping to real coding, because the complexity, the challenge increases, so as a result people sometimes think they’ll not be able to do it.

What do you think appeals to kids about your lessons compared to learning it in a classroom setting? 

Age relation. I’ve felt that mainstream coding classes have trouble relating to kids because of the age difference. You don’t just want a teacher-student relationship, you also want a “friend-showing-you-how-to-do-something” kind of relationship. If you learn stuff from people you know or people around your age, it’s very impactful and I want to create that kind of experience with my classes. 

How do your coding classes give kids a good entry point into coding?

I make my classes creative and personal. Many mainstream coding classes take 100 kids in a room and discourage questions. What I do is have small classes and engage my students in conversation like “hey, I'm your friend” not “hey, I'm the teacher. I’m superior.” I want the student experience to feel as personally modifiable as possible—in my class you don’t code “a page” you code “your page.” 

So is it like you want your students to feel like they have some kind of agency over what they’re making even if they’re following your tutorial?

Yes, exactly. I want to emphasize that they did this, created this website, not me. They. (Check out the work of his students Maya and Victory).

The website Victory is building through Ryan's class.
The website Maya is building through Ryan's class.

Based on your experience so far do you think your students are gaining a sense of pride for figuring this out with you?

Yeah, definitely. I also do a lot of classic teacher tactics in terms of making things easy to remember like in HTML there are three different tags that are weird. I call them the “odd brothers” which are <br>, <hr>, and <img> to help my students remember them. 

I also do feedback slides at the end of my classes. I ask them “how well did I teach?” and then “how happy are you with your website that you created?”.

What are your takeaways from the classes you’ve done so far and how do you prepare for them? 

I’ve learned how to motivate my students at the end of a class like “look at what you created this class, let me help you make it better next class.” It takes me some time before every class to think about how the class is going to operate. Pretty much every class has some problem. Problems become bigger when there’s multiple people in a class, especially when I have to help kids who are late catch up.

What have you learned about online learning when taking online classes yourself during the pandemic? 

It showed me what not to do. It was un-interactive and overwhelming. So with my students, I make sure to get their FULL attention because learning to code is going to take brain power. I tell them “this is not going to be easy.”

Where do you plan on taking your classes in the future? 

I hope to have more kids join and also make new classes for new coding languages. We’re all going to keep adding to the one website they're already creating in my current class, and make them more and more fancy as they learn more and more things. 

What has your experience been like in other Primer Rooms?

I really like the “Tycoons” Rooms where we’re having to make business decisions. It helps because I like exercising my debate skills. I really like thinking about business—I like thinking through ideas to net the most value for consumers and producers. 

Why do you call yourself “Penguin Man” in your username?

A few years ago I went to Walmart with my grandma. We were looking for cool hats. Most hats were boring. The penguin hat seemed the most interesting. I went to school wearing it and people started calling me “penguin.” I decided to embrace that and be that forever...it just became my thing. 

I’ve learned that if people judge me for being myself, that's their problem not mine. You can either be a boring person and get no enemies and people like you or you can be an outspoken person and people can either like you or they don’t.

How did you learn this?

My dad has a lot of experience and told me this. It's been 13 years minus 10 days and it’s been working well for me so far.

What’s your long-term goal?

Turn a hobby into a job.

Anything else you’d like the world to know? 

I’m 12 turning 13. If I can do it you can do it too. 

What do you mean by “it”? 

Starting a business, making a website, learning another language, anything you want...


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