Once a week (well during term time) I leave work and head to a local primary school in Malvern, Worcestershire. I arrive as their school day ends and for a group of 9 children, aged between 9 and 11 years old, I run a Code Club. For anyone who hasn’t heard of Code Club it’s a fantastic nationwide initiative that links schools and software developers together and provides them with the resources to teach children to code.
You may wonder if I have some teaching qualification or a child in the school, well the answer to both is no. I was at school in the 80’s and found my love of coding on BBC Micro’s and Commodore 64’s. While this may have been a while ago, I’m aware of what’s being currently taught by talking to my daughter. It was while I was comparing what she told me with what I learnt at secondary school that I could see the opportunities that today’s children were missing out on. Their familiarisation with software packages in every subject area was amazing but who was going to develop the packages of the future? Luckily for me at the beginning of 2012 as I was coming to these conclusions the early shoots of Code Club were starting to appear and by the start of the autumn term 2012 Code Club had launched and I was running my first club.
Starting from Scratch
The start of the school year is where the fun really starts. I meet a new group of children, all blank canvases ready to learn. For the first term we use Scratch, a project from the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Labs. It’s a very visual drag and drop development environment and is given away free. This means it was already installed in the school and allows the children to take home what they learn in the club. I gently guide the children every step of the way through the first worksheet, but as the worksheets progress I leave them more to their own devices, only giving instruction and direction where needed.
Of course not every child gets it first time and this is where I step forward. I get down to their level and listen to their problem. Now the easy way would be to just tell them the answer but what would they learn. I have to encourage them towards the solution by giving them little nudges in the right direction. In between answering questions I go round the class and chat to the children who I might not have talked to for a while finding out where they are and how they are doing. This also provides me with a good opportunity to go over any concepts that they are learning and emphasise the reasons for doing it. Of course my true reward for running the club is being there when a child has that eureka moment, where they achieve something new and the penny finally drops.
So what do the children who attend my club learn? Well the obvious thing would be the ability to code, but in reality it’s much more than that. The skills they learn are applicable in many other areas of their education. For example they learn the ability that when faced with a large task to be able to break it down into manageable chunks and the ability to recognise patterns that they have used before and so use them again. So even for those who coding isn’t for them they still leave with useful set of skills.
Well after an enjoyable first term using Scratch where do the children go next? Luckily Code Club provides plenty of choices, it could be another term of Scratch, but more advanced this time, it could be a term of HTML & CSS or even a term of Python. It all depends on how the children are progressing.
While my experiences are great there are still plenty of schools and software developers who haven’t heard of Code Club and plenty of children who could be given the opportunity to learn to code. Admittedly there is already over 1,000 clubs being run across the UK and this is a great start, but the aim is to have a Code Club in 25% of UK primary schools by 2015. This can be done, it just needs volunteers and schools to come forward to be linked together. Be a part of it and visit www.codeclub.org.uk and register your interest.
If you’re a software developer and you’re not sure about volunteering then go for it. Code Club provides all the required support and resources. All you have to bring is Energy, Enthusiasm and a belief that you can make a difference.
Postcode Anywhere will be holding the first West Midlands meet-up in their offices in Worcester. So if you are running a club, or would like to find out more about volunteering do drop in.