cccSkerries – The First Three Years of my Creative Computer Classes

The door to the cccSkerries room first opened in July 2013.

It’s hard to believe that I’m about to begin the fourth year of summer camps in what used to be our guest bedroom and what I now call “the cccSkerries training room.”

In the summer of 2012, I decided to become a self-employed digital educator, and – after four years as a primary teacher – to focus on what I enjoyed most in teaching: Helping kids to express their creativity through digital means, to enable them to achieve their aims through technology, and to have fun in the process.

Looking back, I can say that this was the best move ever!

There have been considerable changes over the months and years:2016-01-25 15.22.02

  • Six laptops specifically purchased for cccSkerries (and available to rent when participants don’t bring their own) replaced the ones that I had borrowed from other household members.
  • A flat-screen TV now makes it easy for all participants to see what we’re doing.
  • Three more or less impromptu coding camps in the summer of 2013 have become ten camps with five different topics in 2016.
  • Two afternoons with two weekly classes each in September 2013 have now become four afternoons with a total of 11 classes.
  • The assorted chairs and tables have been replaced by one large oval table, big enough to accommodate everyone, and matching chairs.
  • And I even have a blank keyboard (one with unmarked keys) for advanced participants of the typing classes!

2016-01-09 16.58.17It’s all a lot more professional than it was that first July, and at the same time, I’m looking forward to them and am expecting just as much fun.

I’ve also been taking my classes to a number of outside venues, libraries mainly – the fabulous dlr LexIcon (the new library in Dún Laoghaire); Blanchardstown Library; Dean’s Grange Library; Blackrock Library; Balbriggan Library – to name just those where I’ve been most.

Learning on Both Sides

It’s fascinating to see children develop skills, logical thinking, and creativity. One skill set that I’m particularly pleased to see develop is that of social interaction… it’s easy to assume that kids who like computers tend to be loners, but that’s not true at all, in my experience. Especially now that everybody is sitting around the one oval table, coders / Minecrafters / computer wizards and indeed those who come for touch-typing lessons spend a lot of the time interacting with each other.Minecraft player in the woods - uncertainty in games helps learn
Ideas are shared. Interesting tips are passed on. Drawings are admired. And there is a good bit of general chat, too – as long as the main reason why they’re here is not forgotten! In Minecraft, we usually are on a shared server, which means we interact online as well as in the real world.

Exploratory learning is what works best. I feed ideas – the kids take them on board and do something with them, or not – then we come up with something else.  That way, a planned simulation project about vacuum cleaners turned into a series of toasters, and then a television.  A story set in Minecraft developed into an adventure in one group; another group got more into design mode and created scale replicas of a football stadium, a shoe shop and an iPhone! There have been space stations, the T.A.R.D.I.S., and all sorts of fascinating buildings in Minecraft. Presentations and web sites have looked at Madagascar, Notch, the future of technology, and gaming questions.

Sabine McKenna explainingI learn, too. All the time. A lot of it is trial and error, in a way that was never possible in school: When my plan is met with enthusiasm, I go with it. If not, I can change it there and then, and move the session in a direction that actually is useful to the coders / wizards. Parents mention something to me, maybe just an aside about too much time spent staring at the screen; it gets me thinking, and I introduce an active break half-way through the typing lesson – who would have thought I’d have such good use for my juggling balls (and ask any of the participants about Mr Miyagi)!

Presentations to Parents & Badges Help Celebrate Progress

From the very first camp on, parents have always been invited to join participants for the last 20 minutes or so of the camp or course. Participants present their work, and parents can ask any questions – and express their praise for, and appreciation of, their children’s progress.  Over the years, I have devised criteria for Fundamental, Intermediate and Advanced Badges in all classes, and those small magnets now  feature on fridges and radiators throughout Skerries and even further afield! These badges are exclusive to those attending my weekly classes.

close up badges 2016
Click this pic to see the weekly cccSkerries classes for 2016/17.

I’m very proud of the Rolls of Honour on the Badge Pages. Whether it’s coding or Minecraft, touch-typing or general computer skills (as learned in the Computer Wizards classes), it’s good to see yourself progressing, and for me, it’s a good way of ensuring that the participants in each group all learn a shared set of fundamental skills. This is especially important as otherwise, the emphasis is on creativity and individuality. It’s all in the mix!

Looking forward to the next three years!

2016-06-14 20.14.21
June 2016.

Three years is a good period for reflection. So what do I expect for the next 36 months or so?

For one thing, I expect there to be new courses and different content. In 2013, Computer Wizards and Minecraft Club were not yet on my list of things to do – now I wouldn’t draw up a schedule without them!

I can’t wait to see where the most important people in cccSkerries are taking it. These are, of course, the participants. Their interests guide the planning for the weekly sessions, as well as for the classes in general that I offer.

Camp 1 coding
July 2013.

I hope to see a good mix of well-known faces and new ones. Some have been with me since the very beginning, and it has been such a joy to them grow into proficient Scratch coders / Minecrafters / typists. The typing classes are among my favourite, as everyone knows, and I love helping kids of all ages make the transition from the “circle-and-hack-with-one-finger” way of typing to knowing their way around the keyboard with confidence and typing with speed. And you know what? Typing helps with spelling, too! 🙂 All those side-effects…

As you probably can see from this post, I absolutely love what I’m doing now. Every group is different, every session is different, and I love being kept on my toes by the kids. I do adult classes, too, and those are also enjoyable – but at the heart of creative computing classes Skerries is my work with these young people. Thank you, everyone!

Summer Camps 2016: Some spaces left, click here. Weekly Classes – for all available spaces, click here.

If you have a minute, could you help me by answering a few questions?

Then click here – thank you! 🙂

And finally here are a few pictures from the camps and classes over the years.