“My advice is to focus on
three things when starting
a coding club: location,
equipment and mentors,”
says Pete Gegen.
Part eleven in a series. “Voices of IBM Volunteers” is part of the SkillsBuild program to reach one million young people a year through STEM-related volunteering (the goal for 2018 was achieved in June). Watch the video (YouTube, 04:20)
The drive to close the global skills gap is among IBM’s most important initiatives. SkillsBuild calls on IBM volunteers to promote activities that enable digital literacy with young people, introduce them to hands-on problem solving, and sparks their interest in STEM learning—using resources and support on the IBM Volunteers web site.
In the series, IBM volunteers share their passion and perspective, in their own words, on what it means to be a volunteer and the positive impact we can all have on society.
IBM volunteer: Pete Gegen, IBM consulting services portfolio manager
Starting a Coding Club
According to code.org, the majority of schools in the United States do not teach computer science. Computer programming clubs, or coding clubs for short, can help fill that gap. And all it takes is a STEM volunteer to decide to make it happen.
Seven years ago, I chose CoderDojo as the club to start, thanks to a recommendation from IBMers in Dublin, Ireland.
CoderDojo is a global network of free, volunteer-led, community-based programming clubs for young people. And it’s easy to start and tailor to your situation.
To start a CoderDojo in your community, my advice is to focus on three things: location, equipment and mentors.
The location or space where your CoderDojo meets is the most important decision. Schools, libraries, makerspaces and businesses are all good options. The location should have good wifi and internet connectivity that can handle dozens of devices at a time.
The options in my local community were limited to schools. Our CoderDojo first met in the computer lab at the intermediate school, and after a couple years we moved to the high school library which had been converted to a media center with large-monitor sharing stations and more comfortable seating.
I prepared a short proposal for the school principal to obtain use of the school building in the evening. The proposal described what CoderDojo was and how I would keep control of the situation. I also asked the school to create a guest network for students who bring their own devices to CoderDojo to keep our club's network activity separate from the school's systems.
Early on we chose to not provide equipment for students to use at CoderDojo. The school district had a 1:1 computing initiative with Chromebooks so we could safely assume that every student could at least use a Chromebook, even if they did not otherwise have access to a device at home such as a laptop computer or an iPad.
That decision influenced what we could and could not do within our CoderDojo. We focused on browser-based coding and learning environments such as Scratch and Code Academy, but we had to drop Minecraft due to its Windows desktop requirements.
Finally, you need a few mentors who have experience with computer programming. The mentors do not have to teach or prepare lessons. Their role is to help students get back on track when they get stuck. Two mentors are the minimum in our experience, four is nice. It is hard to run a dojo with just one mentor. Parents without coding experience can also help run the dojo, and in some cases, they can help the younger students with Scratch questions. The availability of our mentors dictated our meeting schedule—once a week on Thursday evenings—as we could not meet without them.
Once you have lined up those three things, you are ready to schedule your first meeting. Of course, after you start your CoderDojo meetings, there will be other items to focus on such as how to keep students coming back to CoderDojo, what online tutorials and resources to use, and more.
There are other options for coding clubs such as Girls Who Code and the student-led Hack Club. IBM is very active with Girls Who Code in larger cities. Check out these other options along with CoderDojo to determine which is the best fit for you.
I have stayed with CoderDojo because it gives my local community, a small town just outside a medium sized city, the best balance of opportunity for students and demands on the volunteer mentors to create a coding culture where one did not previously exist.
- Organization Summary - CoderDojo
- Organization: CoderDojo
- Worldwide Coverage: Global
- Ages or Grades: Ages 7 through 17
- Organization Rules for starting a team or club: Register the club on the CoderDojo website. Anyone can start a club. It does not have to be affiliated with a school.
- Startup Costs: None if your meeting location is donated and students bring their own devices.
- Equipment Required: Each student needs a computing device such as a laptop computer, a Chromebook, or an iPad. Requirements are flexible, and you can tailor it to your situation
- Coach or Mentor Skills Needed: Recommend at least two adults with computer programming experience
- Travel: None
- IBM Activity Kits for coding skills
[Look for Pete’s next article to appear in November, “Starting a Science Club.” His full series can also be read on LinkedIn.]
For over 100 years, IBMers have created positive change in the world through their day-to-day work and their service in local communities. Since 2004, nearly 300,000 IBM employees and retirees have contributed more than 20 million hours of volunteer service.
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