This evening my daughter was sitting at the kitchen table, pencil in hand, confronting a full page of math homework. It was one of those dreadfull rote exercises where one has to solve variations on the same problem over and over again until either the exercises are complete or the child expires from boredom. I remember those math exercises, usually associated with the dictum to “Show your work” – meaning that every exercise would take what seemed like hours to complete. I’m breaking out in a cold sweat just thinking about it.
Nobody I know really likes these sorts of homework assignments. I guess they are a rite of passage in grade school. Seeing the dread in her eyes, I sat down and proceeded to just start talking her through it. It was all the usual stuff. I’d ask questions, and talk about different ways of solving the problem. I’d check her results and ask more questions. And I’d challenge her to do silly things (Write your numbers as tiny as you can. Smaller. smaller!). I’d stop and ask her how she did it, because Dad doesn’t know the new math (I really don’t – today they use all sorts of fun strategies that I never learned as a kid). And of course there was a high five at the end.
And then it occurred to me that we were pair programming!
Well, pair problem solving anyway. She was driving – doing the work. I was navigating, validating her work and thinking about how to tackle the next challenge. We had a dialog going on where we questioned each other. It turns out we both tend to make the same kinds of silly mistakes: like father, like daughter. I just see those mistakes better because I’m navigating, and I’m more experienced.
It seems a very similar pattern to what we do when we are pair programming. Someone is working on the problem, the other is verifying, asking questions, looking ahead. And both are very focused. It’s very intense – requiring full concentration. But, depending on who it is, it can be playful too.
That sounds like a nice way to work. Better than individually grinding away. Of course programming and math problems from grade school are very different things. But it made me wonder, is a place where we all pair a more pleasant place?