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.

 

 

Getting to grips with digital making at Picademy

‘Picademy? What’s it all about?’ I hear you say. Liz, Code Club’s Regional Coordinator for the North West, tells us more…

When I began volunteering with Code Club I had no idea what a Raspberry Pi is, and by the time I started working at Code Club I wasn’t that much wiser. So when the Google Garage came to Manchester, and with it a chance to attend Picademy, the free 2-day CPD programme for UK educators delivered by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, I jumped at the chance to go.

There are so many ‘best things about Picademy’ that I’m not sure where to start. The swag was fantastic, the tutors were brilliant, and the workshops were varied and inspirational. On Day 1, we’d covered Scratch GPIO, Python, Sonic Pi, and Minecraft all before lunch, and afterwards expanded our digital skills repertoire in workshops about the Explorer Hat and the Pi Camera. By the end of the day, I’d made flashing things, spinning things, noisy things, and so much more!

If I thought Day 1 was good, then Day 2 was amazing! It was so amazing that I forgot to stop for lunch, and I’m not the kind of person who does that often! Day 2 of Picademy is a hack day where you use your new skills and your imagination to bring something to life. My project was a hat for people playing Minecraft which lights up in different colours depending on which surface Minecraft Steve is standing on – totally useless, completely impractical, and definitely not something that’s going to feature at New York Fashion Week, but so much fun to make! I combined my new knowledge of circuits with some Python code and Minecraft linking, then did a lot of debugging and tweaking until everything worked as intended, and I finished with around 2 minutes to spare!

Each Picademy ends with a big show-and-tell where everyone presents what they’ve made, and there is a lot of laughter, applause, and shared insights. You then you get a badge, a certificate, and are welcomed to the Raspberry Pi Certified Educator community – I think I smiled all the way home!

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I’ve been lucky enough to visit Picademy a few more times since then. First I gatecrashed the end of the Picademy at Madlab earlier this year, so I could loudly applaud the new batch of Certified Educators and see their creations firsthand. Then I attended a staff Picademy session at our Cambridge office where the team I worked with created a ‘mug shot’ device (a camera seated on a plastic mug!) that takes your photo, adds a cartoon, and tweets you the result.

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If you’re is thinking about attending a Picademy near you, I completely recommend it. And if you’re not able to go to a physical Picademy, have a go at one of the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s FutureLearn courses and really immerse yourself in the online community of Raspberry Pi-trained educators – you’ll get loads out of it!

If you’ve already attended a Picademy, make sure you take part in the Raspberry Pi Certified Educators survey 2017