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Helping children learn to code

Introduction

I volunteer at a Code Club organised by DigiLocal , a charity giving marginalised young people the opportunity to discover and develop their digital talents. It is hosted by Jigsaw Thornbury , a charity that works with all children and young people with additional needs or disabilities, and their families. I support the Code Club along with a few fellow data professionals who organise the Data Bristol . I wanted to share my latest experience to highlight how rewarding it has been to support this club and hopefully encourage others to get involved in their local club…our ours!

What is Code Club?

Code Club is global network of free coding clubs for 9–13 year olds, the clubs are led by volunteers, the learning content is provided for you. Games are built using Scratch , a block based programming language that is easy to learn and fun to use.

A picture of our Code Club in full flow at Jigsaw Thornbury! There are two banks of desks lining the outside of the room, six children are sat at laptops being guided by volunteers and parents.

Typically, a Code Club is run by a few volunteers who guide the children through the learning content. Our club tends to have more volunteers, as the children we support have additional needs and typically require more time and support. We tend to give the children a chance to explore and follow their own direction, but we are always on hand to help them if they get stuck, want guidance, or simply help transferring their ideas into code.

I never complete the games

In general this works well, but in our last session before Christmas, we had quite a challenging game and I sat with one of the children towards the end trying to help her through some steps she was stuck on. She was making progress, but it was clear that she wasn’t going to be able to complete the game. I was pretty put out by this…my completionist nature really kicked in I think ha! I said that I was sorry that she wouldn’t be able to complete the game this time. She ever so politely said to me “that’s perfectly fine, I never complete the games anyway”.

Damn…

Mission set

That club was in November, and her words stuck with me over the Christmas period. I decided that I would make it my mission to help her complete the game the next time she came along. When we settled on the ghost escape last week, I ran through constructing the game myself so I had all the instructions worked out, and any subtle gotchas identified. WE WILL COMPLETE THIS GAME!

A picture of the game, there is a ghost trying to navigate around a purple maze, a cloud is chasing the ghost, and the ghost doesn't look best pleased. The ghost is trying to get to his home...a rainbow...at the end of the maze.

Mission accepted

So when the children arrived, I sat down with her and said “guess what we’re going to do this week? We are going to complete this game!”, she raised her fist and said “yes!”. We went through the steps to create a ghost that follows the mouse cursor, then draw a maze to navigate, an enemy that chases the ghost, a home that the ghost needs to get to, and finally programmed a timer. There’s plenty of room for the children to add their own creative flair…the ghost’s home is a rainbow? Nope…we should draw a headstone. Ok, let’s draw a headstone then. The ghost is being chased by a cloud? Nope…I want it to be chased by a lightning bolt. Ok, a lightning bolt it is!

A picture of a brother and sister sat at laptops building their ghost chase game, they are being guided by myself and a fellow volunteer

I wanted to keep things on track to make sure we completed the game, but I also wanted to give her the freedom to make the game her own. Scratch doesn’t have a headstone sprite (it seems to not cover morbid sprites lol), so we drew a headstone from scratch (pun intended) using the paint function, much to her delight.

Mission complete

We worked through the instructions and with about half an hour remaining we completed the game. “So guess what?” I said “YOU COMPLETED IT!”, she gave out a huge triumphant “YES!” and celebrated with her hands in the air. She then called over Dad to have a look at the game she’d completed.

A rewarding experience

There’s something uniquely special about helping others achieve stuff. I have found it to be incredibly rewarding to be part of this club. We have some very enthusiastic children at our Code Club, and it’s great to see them learning and having fun. I would encourage anyone to get involved with a Code Club, it’s a great way to give back to the community and to help young people learn new skills and express themselves.

Want to get involved?

If you are interested in getting involved with a Code Club, you can find out more here . I volunteer as this Code Club as a STEM ambassador, you can find out more about becoming a STEM ambassador here . DigiLocal are always looking for volunters, you can find out more about them here .

Some of us work in the world of tech, but you don’t need to be a tech professional to volunteer. You just need to be willing to give up a couple of hours to run a session. You don’t need to be a coding expert either, the learning content is provided for you, you just need to be able to follow along with the instructions! If you are interested in volunteering, I would encourage you to get in touch with your local Code Club and see how you can help.

Want to play the game?

This is the one I prepared ahead of the session, although I’m afraid it isn’t as good as hers…