Hackhorsham Code Club Festival 2017, big projection

The Horsham Code Club Festival

HackHorsham’s recent Horsham Code Club Festival was a massive success, with volunteers, kids, and educators from across Sussex coming together for a day of coding, catching up, and exploring the fascinating world of STEAM.

HackHorsham

As a Regional Coordinator for Code Club, I’m lucky to work with some amazing partner organisations across the South East of England. One such organisation is HackHorsham, who are based in the charming Mid Sussex town of Horsham. HackHorsham was started three years ago by Gavin Hewins, Marcus Tyler-Moore, and Nik Butler, because they wanted to promote STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Maths) in the Horsham area.

The idea

In late 2016 Gavin, Marcus, and Nik approached me with an idea: they wanted to run a Horsham Code Club Festival. The event would bring together Code Clubbers from across Sussex for an exciting day of coding and making. It would also help to increase the visibility of young people who are enthusiastic about digital making, and make teachers take note of our efforts and resources, so that coding clubs might in future become as prominent in schools as football teams or choirs. Needless to say, I was on board immediately!

HackHorsham had already gained support for their idea from the Met Office, pi-top, and Horsham-based companies Red River Software and Reduced Hackers, as well as Creative Assembly, the local game developer that produces the hugely successful Total War series. I was more than happy to provide marketing support by advertising the event to local Code Club leaders and talking about it at meetups and events.

The festival

On Sunday 9 July, I made my way to the Capitol Theatre in Horsham, along with three members of the Code Club I run at my daughter’s school with Wendy Armstrong. At the theatre, we met 50 other eager Code Clubbers and their parents. After an introduction to the day from the partner organisations, we headed over to the Horsham Council’s offices, which the Council let us use for free. We kicked off with a workshop run by the amazing Cat Lamin. Cat showed the children how to use pi-tops and Python to make some traffic lights flash – a great introduction to digital making. She and her team were brilliant, and their infectious enthusiasm really got the children going!

Kids play with PiTops at Hack Horsham Code Club Festival

Young coders Morgan and Tilly get to grips with the pi-top. Picture credit: Dennison Studios Photography

After lunch, one half of the children worked with the Met Office using their Weather API and the Raspberry Pi Sense HAT, a device with a display and a bank of sensors. With the help of its temperature sensor, the kids compared the in-room temperature to the temperature reported by the Met Office. Children were also invited to interact with several stands run by the Met Office. Among them was one about the ArcGIS mapping system where kids could create story boards on maps, and one about the Turing machine where they learned about logic. The Met Office also showed the children an old Met Office Supercomputer and a Raspberry Pi cluster computer.

At the same time, the other half of the kids took part in a workshop run by Femi, a remarkable 11-year-old who is a recipient of the Diana Award. He took the time to attend the festival before flying off to Bangladesh to help 100 children from low-income families learn digital making and coding! Femi’s workshop was about Crumble robotics, and saw our Code Clubbers build their own robot buggies and then race them against each other.

There was also a stand run by Gavin Hewins, who was showcasing the always popular Mad Music Machine that uses Sonic Pi and a bank of Raspberry Pis. He encouraged people to alter the coded music the machine plays using its multitude of levers, joysticks, toggles, and sliders.

At 15.00, we all headed back to the Capitol Theatre for a ceremony in which the Code Clubbers who took part were invited onto the stage to get a certificate or award. I was delighted that our Code Club’s team won an Innovation Award for their idea for a Raspberry Pi-powered greenhouse that includes a weeding robot. What a fast-paced afternoon full of fun, laughter, and digital making!

The aftermath

I can’t tell you how impressed I was with the amazing job HackHorsham did putting on this event! It was a truly fantastic day, and we’ve had universally positive feedback. Yvonne Swinson, a teacher at Milton Mount Primary School, said: “What a great day for our young coders. Thanks for organising the event. Our Milton Mount team had a fantastic time!”

HackHorsham are already thinking about next year’s event, and they want to make it even bigger and better! So watch this space…

Six ways to start your Code Club session

by Katharine Childs, Code Club’s Regional Coordinator for the East Midlands

One of the best parts of my job is visiting Code Clubs. I really enjoy seeing the different ways in which clubs structure their time, and I often get asked if there are any recommended ways to start a Code Club session – so here are my six top tips!

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1. Show a completed version of the project

If most children of the group are going to be working on the same project, it’s a good idea to first show them a completed version of it. Our projects include such a version for just this purpose. Of course, if you’ve worked through the project yourself, you can show your version. This is a tangible way of demonstrating to the children what their aim for the session is. They may even come up with ideas for how they can extend the project.

2. Demonstrate a small section of a project

If you’ve worked through a project before the club session, you may have found a section which will be new to most of the children. For example, children may need to learn how to place blocks of code on top of one another as well as clipping them together. Volunteers of some clubs find it useful to spend the first few minutes demonstrating new ideas so that children can work more independently during the session.

3. Do a stand-up

If all the children are working on different projects, it can be tricky to find a common theme for an introduction. In this case, you could have everyone do a stand-up: stand-ups take place in software development companies when each team member explains what they are working on to build communication amongst the team. In the same way, each child in your club could briefly tell the rest of the group what they achieved last week, what they are going to work on this week, and what help they think they might need.

4. Look at some online Scratch projects

This suggestion may be a little controversial, as I know some clubs actively encourage their children to create their own games instead of playing other people’s. However, it can be really valuable for the children to spend a few minutes exploring some online projects because it can help them to understand the potential of Scratch and to find new ideas. You can focus this activity by suggesting children search around a keyword for projects relating to a particular theme such as ‘nature’ or ‘racing’.

5. Have a routine

Several clubs I’ve visited have a routine for the children to follow when they arrive. This often includes tasks such as getting a laptop, collecting login details, setting up their computer, and reviewing what they did last week. After the first two or three sessions, this becomes second nature and frees up the adults helping at the club to answer any individual queries.

6. Talk about how to support each other

Code Clubs work best when adults support children and children support other children. Sometimes you might need to define what this support looks like and get agreement from everyone in the club. It’s a good idea to talk through ground rules, such as what to do if you get stuck, and how to test each other’s projects out.

A dynamic short introduction prepares the way for the rest of the session to run smoothly. When clubs start their sessions well, it makes the children excited about the creative opportunities that coding offers, and helps them develop a resilient approach to problem-solving.  

 

Scratch 2.0 on the Raspberry Pi

Exciting news! On Friday, Raspberry Pi announced the release of an update to the Raspberry Pi operating system, Raspbian, which includes an offline version of Scratch 2.0.

We often get questions from Code Club leaders looking to use this latest version of Scratch offline on the Raspberry Pi, so this update will be welcome to many!

Work on implementing Scratch 2.0 has been in progress for a while, as Simon Long details on the Raspberry Pi blog, and now the team has succeeded: a Scratch 2.0 application is available for the Pi 2 and Pi 3 – you can find it in the Programming section of the updated Raspbian main menu.

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However, the team didn’t stop at providing an offline version of Scratch 2.0 – they have also improved the experience of physical computing on the Pi using Scratch. There is now a custom extension which allows the user to control the Pi’s GPIO pins without difficulty: simply click on “More Blocks”, choose “Add an Extension”, and select “Pi GPIO”. This loads two new blocks, one to read and one to write the state of a GPIO pin.

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The Scratch team at MIT kindly allowed Raspberry Pi to include all the sprites, backdrops, and sounds from the online version of Scratch 2.0, so the cat sprite and its meow noise that we all know and love are present and accounted for. And you can even use the Raspberry Pi Camera Module to create new sprites and backgrounds!

Got questions or want to learn more? Head over to the Raspberry Pi blog.