Learning the Codes

CoderDojo2 -James Whelton Mentoring

The one rule in a CoderDojo classroom is ‘Above all: be cool’. Most teachers would cringe at the thought of how inadequate a rule so simple and general would be when it comes to keeping discipline in a room full of kids. But CoderDojos are not ordinary classrooms. A non-profit organisation that establishes ‘coding clubs’ for children and young persons aged 8 – 18, the clubs are free to attend but you must bring your own laptop. Coderdojo teaches kids how to write coding languages and design apps for digital platforms or games and other programs.

CoderDojo was established in 2011 by James Whelton, at the computer club of his high school, where he taught basic coding to other interested students. James acquired some accidental media attention by hacking his iPod Nano so it could play movies and even simple computer games, rather than just playlists.

This bit of household innovation led to an invitation to speak at the Dublin Web Summit 2011, where James met Cork-based venture capitalist and entrepreneur Bill Liao. The pair went on to establish CoderDojo as a non-profit company within the year.

NewsFour spoke with James Crook, a mentor at the CoderDojo that operates in the Science Gallery on Pearse Street. The clubs are intended to run every Saturday afternoon, from September through June. James’ enthusiasm for the organisation is palpable. “I first heard of CoderDojo through the Computers in Education Society of Ireland who have been trying for 40 years to introduce computers to schools. I attended a talk given by a CoderDojo mentor and was so impressed that I volunteered immediately.”

CoderDojo3 - Coder Dojo Group

The CoderDojos are structured as small groups placed together according to capability. “We have a projects group, where the kids work on specific things that interest them. To join, you have to have an idea of what you want to do. This could be something to do with re-purposing electronic devices, or with game design. Learning what you want, you progress by leaps and bounds, compared to conventional school learning.”

The other group is for kids who are just finding their feet. “Someone will lead that group and demonstrate something simple, like how to create an animation frame-by-frame by sticking bits of code together. We have our own simple introductory programming language called SCRATCH that’s easy to grasp and learn to use.”

James suggests that the teaching model of the CoderDojo runs on the enthusiasm of the students. “Our job as mentors is to supervise them teaching themselves, to help them over the road bumps they encounter.

What’s great is when you show one of the students how they might simplify a code procedure they’re working on. They don’t act like you’ve taken something away from them, they’re happy because they’re learning.”

Left: CoderDojo group in action.
Below: James Whelton mentoring a CoderDojo group.
Images courtesy of CoderDojo

By Ruairi Conneely