Scratch – the Coding Platform for Young People with Inbuilt Creativity and …. Community!

A quick report from the International Scratch Conference: “The Next Generation” – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, July 2018

Ciarán and Sabine in Cambridge & Boston, Mass.

We both made the trip across the Atlantic to experience Scratch where it is created… in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Lifelong Kindergarten Group, led by Mitchel Resnick, at the MIT Media Lab has been creating and developing Scratch since 2003. We got to meet lots of them at the conference, as well as many of the 600 other educators. There were workshops and keynotes, an exhibition and lots of great opportunities to talk to others using Scratch. Most were educators (lots of primary school teachers, a good few secondary school teachers, more librarians than I would have expected). The Scratch Team were very much there as well, always available for a chat and very engaging and open to all.

I brought home so many great ideas that I can just scratch (oops) the surface here. The conference will definitely influence the cccSkerries coding classes for the next 2 years, until Scratch 2020! Still, here are a few thoughts. Continue reading

Dublin Tech Summit 2017

A Skerries Perspective

This article was published in the 24 February 2017 edition of Skerries News.


What will all the developments in technology mean for our daily lives, here in this seaside town in North County Dublin? What is in store, technologically, for the next generation – what will life be like for our son, who is now 16, when he is our age? Indeed what will life be like for us all in one, two decades? That’s what I found myself wondering after attending the two-day 1st Dublin Tech Summit in Dublin on February 15 and 16.

Continue reading

Let’s Go Digital: Getting Your Daily Paper on Your Screen

So what’s that now, paperless newspapers?

Indeed. Subscribe to any of the Irish daily newspapers online, and you can read it without ever having to fold a paper again. Good for the environment, good for your purse.

How so?

For the environment? Have you ever looked at the pile of old newspapers building up in the corner?

No, I get that. For my purse!

It’s a lot cheaper. €4 per week for the Irish Times ePaper; €14.99 per month for the Herald, €19.99 for the Irish Independent. And they all offer the first month for just one Euro.

Yeah no. I tried it before and it just didn’t do it for me.

Same here. However, I’ve resubscribed to the Irish Times online, and it’s so much better now! Continue reading

Five Thoughts on Email & Seven Quick Pointers for Setting It Up

Techie Column Header April 2016

This column appeared in the 8 April 2016 edition of Skerries News.

First thought: By now, it’s for everyone. These days, it seems to be expected of everybody to be on the internet and to have, at the very minimum, an email address. No computer? The library has some you can use for free!

Second: It’s simple. Using email has become pretty straightforward. If you’re new to it, don’t be shy to ask a friend or family member to walk you through it – after a couple of times, you’ll be able to do it all by yourself.

Third: Beware of spammers and tricksters! “This is Apple Corporation. Your account has been suspended. Please click here.” Don’t! “You have been selected for a tax refund.” No you haven’t! Most of these would end up in your spam folder. Delete and ignore.

Fourth: Don’t send too many Emails yourself, for instance by responding using “reply to all” to a group email, one that goes to many. Make sure that you only reply to the original sender – unless everybody needs to see it.

Fifth: Manage your inbox! A few minutes at a time make it easy to keep on top of it. Don’t let the messages build up… you don’t have to open every single one. Selecting and deleting them unread is often a good option. The subject line will give you a good idea.

Five quick pointers for setting up your email:

1. Choose your email name wisely. If at all possible, I would go with your actual name, with a dot between first name and last name. It’s easiest to read. Of course, if you’re John Smith, then will be gone long ago, so adding something like e.g. your location might be useful: is probably still available! Many use their year of birth – fine, if you’re happy to give it to everyone…. Me, I’d prefer my location.

2. Your password should be something you will always, always remember. Many places require them to be secure, so 1234 or password won’t work. Short Irish sentences do, however, especially when combined with punctuation marks and a number, such as anbhfuiltuanseo!2016 (no, I don’t use that as my actual password for anything, it’s just an example!)

3. Who to go with? Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail all are favourites. Personally, I use Gmail a lot. (More about Gmail in a future column.)

4. It’s probably a good idea to have keep work email and private email separate. For instance, if you are away from the office for a while, you don’t want to have to log on to your office email just to find that check-in information for the flight back.

5. Subscribe to email newsletters – if you are genuinely interested in receiving them! For instance, there is the near-daily Skerries Newsflash (see below) sent out by Skerries Community Association (SCA). This one I definitely do want.

6. Unsubscribe from newsletters regularly. You might have given your email address to a number of organisations, and now they send you emails. Again and again and again. And these clutter up your inbox. Don’t let them! Nearly all of them have an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom. Make use of it. Take some time to go through your inbox and unsubscribe from all the updates that are not useful or amusing to you.

7. And finally: Check your spam folder regularly. About 5% of emails that I receive and that Gmail moves there are not spam at all, and some of those would have been quite important NOT to miss.

Insider Tip: Skerries Newsflash

Every day, Dee Langton, one of the Directors of Skerries Community Association, takes the emails sent to and copies their text into the Newsflash, which then is sent out automatically early in the morning – community news, “small ads” type notices… if you get this, you’re certainly better informed about what’s happening in Skerries. (You can subscribe by sending an email with the subject line “Please add me to the Newsflash” to Anyone can submit an item, though it is at the discretion of the SCA what goes in.

SCA Newsflash Promo Nov 2014

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.


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


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

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 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!)