Coding for All – Really?

For a numberSkerries News September 2016 of years, “coding” has been touted as the next big thing, the skill that our children will need in order to be part of the “smart economy” of the future; the skill that will make our youngsters rich and their parents proud, once they have created that million-dollar app. Coding clubs, so-called CoderDojos, for kids have sprung up all over the world; a number of countries have introduced programming into their curriculum, and in June of this year, the Minster for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, has asked the Irish National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to consider approaches to introducing the teaching of coding in primary schools. But is that really necessary? Is it even desirable?

As a former primary teacher (between 2010 and 2013, I worked in a number of North Dublin primary schools, both as resource and class teacher) and current “digital educator” (a term I may have made up myself, I’m not entirely sure), I can see both advantages and disadvantages of introducing every single child to programming. Continue reading

Skerries CoderDojo

Since September 2014, up to 60 kids bring their laptops and a parent along to the monthly sessions of Skerries CoderDojo. Read on to see what it is all about, and how you could become part of it.

Have you heard of CoderDojo, the free coding club for kids from 7 to 17, where, mentors with IT backgrounds volunteer in order to pass on their skills and passion to the next generation? If so, you are hopefully also aware that the CoderDojo bug, which started a few short years ago in Cork and is now an international movement, came to Skerries this summer.

A bit of history

CoderDojo was founded in Cork in early 2011 by the then-Leaving Cert student James Whelton and Australian author and investor Bill Liao, Dublin was one of the first locations to start up regular Dojos, moving around a little before settling on the Science Gallery, Dublin 2, where it is still taking place most Saturdays.

As an accompanying parent, I saw how much fun it was for the kids, and also how difficult it could be to plan for sessions, yet how rewarding. After just accompanying our son there for about a year, I finally got involved myself on a practical level. I led the Scratch Beginners & Intermediate group in the Science Gallery CoderDojo. I even got interviewed during that time – as did Ciarán!

 CoderDojo Video with footage from the Science Gallery (and Cork and New York) in 2012: Above all, be cool!

Ciaran 2011 CoderDojo
Click on the link (screenshot) to see this video. ScienceGallery CoderDojo 2012.

CoderDojo comes to Skerries

Jump one year forward to 2014, and it felt like the right time to bring CoderDojo to Skerries. Luckily, we got organisational support from Skerries Community Association, which really helped getting it off the ground fast.

After a first meeting for interested people in June 2014, we started with regular monthly meetings that September, and have so far run four highly successful Dojos. At first Joe May’s very kindly hosted us in their upstairs room, but we soon outgrew this, and were lucky to secure the use of the Community Centre / Old Schoolhouse from November 2014 on.

The buzz in the Old Schoolhouse on Dojo days is unbelievable! Three (soon four) parallel sessions and the Dojo Café in the Little Theatre fill the entire building.

Between organisers / helpers and mentors, two dozen adults are actively involved – and more than sixty Ninjas attended the December Dojo.

Skerries CoderDojo the cover

What happens in the Dojo – and before

CoderDojo mentors use Scratch (and other programming languages / coding environments) to introduce children to computational thinking and coding.  Both put huge emphasis on self-directed, problem-solving, and project-based, exploratory learning.  Learning how to be active participants in the digital world, and making computers and the internet their tools for learning and creativity are other central aspects.

Scratchlogo2

The group of volunteer mentors and organisers who run Skerries CoderDojo is remarkable in its enthusiasm and willingness to help make the monthly meetings special, be it by providing for the Dojo Café, helping with the admin side of running such a club for so many, moving tables and chairs on the day, or preparing and running the sessions.  We have parents and non-parents, men and women, people with computing backgrounds and others who are great at organising things.

The mentors get together between sessions. They research what other Dojos have done, test it out, chop it around, and create projects and handouts for the Ninjas. They set up trial servers, get their heads around things that the Ninjas are into, and that might have been outside their area of expertise before starting to mentor in CoderDojo, like Minecraft, and then create session plans around that. In the Advanced Group, for instance, Ninjas modified Minecraft using JavaScript, and all of a sudden they could create entire high-rise buildings in one go, instead of placing one block after the other!  [For those among you interested in these things and thus noticed I said JavaScript: Yes, Minecraft is written in Java, but there are plugins that allow modification through JavaScript.]

CoderDojo Advanced

During the same session, the Intermediate Group learned how to establish what their computer’s internet address is, and to turn a single-user Scratch program into a chat room for up to four people.

And the Beginners got to create their own mini- game, at their very first session! Being able to do all this really boosts the children’s confidence around technology and their self-esteem. One Ninja said afterwards that he learns more in one afternoon in CoderDojo than in weeks in school…

And it is showing already outside of CoderDojo.  A lot of ninjas come to cccSkerries as well, and I can see how the monthly Dojos add an extra buzz to their digital learning, and make them eager for more.

CoderDojo Welcome

Interested?

For more information on Skerries CoderDojo, have a look at our page on the Skerries Community Association website (Skerries CoderDojo is a committee of the SCA), or our Facebook page.

If you’d like to join us as a parent helper / organiser or mentor, or just want to find out more, please send an email to  coderdojo@skerriesca.com.

Ninja tickets are free, but must be reserved every month. Information about each Dojo is sent out to the CoderDojo mailing list – again, just send an email to   coderdojo@skerriesca.com to be added to it – and to the recipients of the daily Skerries Community Association Newsflash (by the way, if you’re not already a subscriber for that, you really should join it!)