Yesterday I, and fellow software developer Oliver Balmer, ran the first session of our new programming club at the school our children attend. We weren’t sure what to expect, but it went very well. The children really enjoyed it and so did we. I am just putting a few notes here in the hope that it piques the interest of other software developers.
- Code Club is a United Kingdom based network of volunteer-led, after-school coding clubs for children aged 9-11.
- The first 2 terms are based on the free Scratch programming language developed by MIT. This is an excellent tool for teaching children programming. Programs are constructed by snapping together colour coded blocks – there is no syntax to learn and very little typing. Within an hour all 9 children went from nothing to having created a simple example game with graphics and sound.
- Later terms progress on to HTML/CSS and Python.
- If you want to set up a Code Club you need to get a DBS criminal records check (previously called a CRB). We did it through STEMnet. It was free and painless. We had to attend an evening course, but this gave us some useful information about the education system and dealing with children.
- Code Club provides all the teaching materials, including print-out worksheets for each session.
- There must be a qualified teacher in the room at all times with the volunteers, so you need to get buy-in from the school staff.
- The process we went through was:
- Registered with the Code Club website
- Discussed it with the school
- Wrote a proposal to the Headmaster
- Got our criminal record checks
- Went into the school and did a presentation to recruit interested children
- Ran a competition for any children who wanted to join
- Liased with the school IT co-ordinator to get Scatch on the school PCs.
- The school has been very supportive and helpful throughout.
- The proposal isn’t required by Code Club, but we thought it was a good idea to make sure everyone understood exactly what we wanted to do. One of the school governors (who is also a Deputy Headmaster at another school) helped us to write it. It was only a couple of pages long.
- We showed a 3 minute video about Scratch in the presentation to the children. That had a much bigger impact than 2 middle aged programmers talking about how cool programming is. When we asked how many kids wanted to join, about 40 hands out of 60 shot up!
- We took care to emphasize that programming isn’t just for boys.
- We required any child who wanted to join our club to enter a competition to design their own computer game (on paper). This allowed us to restrict the intake to a manageable number, if too many wanted to join. Also it created an entry barrier to the less interested ones. We don’t want to act as a free baby sitting service for children who aren’t really interested. In the event we got 10 competition entries and we accepted them all.
- 9 out of the 10 children turned up for the first session (6 boys and 3 girls).
- We created a certificate for the best competition entry and handed that out at the first session.
- Our club sessions are an hour and 15 minutes. We added the extra 15 minutes to allow some time to get everyone settled. The children were very engaged and had no problems concentrating for that long.
- There is no fee to attend our Code Club sessions (unlike many of the other after school clubs).
- You need to run the club at a time that suits the school/children. This isn’t a problem for me as I have my own business and can set my own work hours. If you are employed 9-5, you may have to negotiate with your employer.
- Our school’s IT suite is well set up, with a projector and enough PCs for each child to have their own. This makes life easier.
- It was slightly chaotic, but fun!
- You may be able to join an existing Code Club rather than having to start a new one. Check the Code Club website for existing clubs.
I went to a secondary school a few months back and talked to some 80 teenagers about what it was like to be a software engineer. When I asked how many of them had done any programming at all, only one of them had. One! We are teaching a generation how to use Excel, Powerpoint and Facebook, but not how to create their own software. What a wasted opportunity. Of course, we don’t need or want everyone to be programmers. But I think it is such an important skill that every child should at least have an opportunity to try it. I believe Code Club can go a long way towards filling this gap. Currently over 700 schools in the UK have Code Clubs.
To find out more go to the Code Club website at:
I believe there are similar initiatives to Code Club in other countries, but I don’t know anything about them. Please comment below if you do.