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Random Thoughts of an ASP.Net Code Monkey

Bringing A Code Club to 9-11 Year Olds

January 19, 2014 18:06 by Andrew Westgarth

This is a cross post from my blog on STEMNet. - http://networking.stemnet.org.uk/blog/bringing-code-club-9-11-year-olds

For a while now I’ve been a STEMNet Ambassador working with local schools on Technology related activities and have been working on getting involved in Code Clubs for quite some time.  This week I started my first Code Club with a local school.

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I am a strong believer in giving children the opportunity to discover the fun in Computer Science and Computer Programming.  I believe the current National Curriculum can be boring, mundane and uninspiring so much so that we are losing many, many potentially great programmers, developers and technologists at a very early age.  I have worked with a variety of age groups and unfortunately the size of groups get smaller as they get older because they don’t see the fun in the subject, often spending year after year working on nothing more stretching than Microsoft Office (PowerPoint, Excel and Word), admittedly not all schools are this limited but in my experience this has been more a case of the exception rather than the norm.

However, in a rare and unrepeated occurrence, Michael Gove actually said something I agreed with, in that Computer Science is to become an important part in the National Curriculum from September 2014 with children getting the opportunity to explore and experience Computer Science, looking at design, coding and algorithmic skills.  This really struck a chord with me and is something I’ve been keen to get involved with for quite some time.  In order for the UK to encourage students to look further into all scientific subjects, we need to capture the imaginations of students at an early age, i.e. before they leave Primary School (age 11), and then continue to stretch their imaginations and interests throughout Secondary education and onwards hopefully to Further Education or positions in the industry.

Schools are currently not fully equipped with the knowledge, skills and resources to teach coding skills and this presents a great opportunity for our industry to build strong links with the education system, providing valuable support and resources to help bridge the gap.  One such way that I have started to do this, amongst others, is to run a Code Club at a local school.  Code Club is a UK wide network of after school coding clubs for children aged 9-11 run by volunteers.

This past week I held my first Code Club session and what a fantastic and rewarding session it was!  Using the wonderful resources and tutorials prepared by Code Club, I was able to introduce the group of approximately 11 to Scratch, a programming language used to teach children how to build animations, games amongst others.  I started with a quick overview and demonstration of the Scratch IDE and then set the group off with a tutorial with which they were able to build a Cat and Mouse game using sprites and logic they put together using Scratch.  Within minutes of working with the tutorial they were all looking at ways in which they could stretch the possibilities and inject their own customisations into the program.  The hour long club past very quickly and when I had to tell the pupils that it was time to go home and their parents were waiting for them, there was a chorus of disappointed “Awwwws” as they wanted to carry on working.  The pupils seemed to really enjoy it and many took the tutorial notes home so they could continue working through the week until the next Code Club!

If you’re reading this post, work in the IT Industry and have an hour to spare a week why not consider getting involved in helping children to learn to code? Check out the various initiatives in your area and nation, including Code Club, Hour of Code; and look to see if there are any schools or community groups in your area who are looking for a volunteer.  Personally I think it’s the least we can do.  We complain that there aren’t enough good new people for us to hire in our industry, let’s take aim at the long term goal and look to help the next generation of coders grasp the opportunities that our wonderful industry provides!

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