5 top tips for running your Code Club

At Code Club we are lucky to have some volunteers who keep running Code Clubs year after year. These people are the real experts on how to run a club, and they have a wealth of advice to help newcomers get started.

One such volunteer is Richard Hind, who has been running his Code Club at a library in the North West for three years now. Here he shares his top tips on getting kids excited about coding.

Starting a new term has got me reflecting on what has and hasn’t worked over my last few years of running a Code Club. Whilst there are many tips I could give, the following five are the main ones that I always keep in mind when I am running my sessions.

1. There are dozens of ways to say “Hello World!”

A lot of children come to Code Club with the idea that they’ll be shown how to program in a very specific way. While for some of the projects this is true, sometimes ten pieces of different code can achieve the same result, and this should be encouraged!

For example, at the end of one Code Club session, I asked the kids to expand on that week’s project (Brain game). The next week, I received several different programs, all achieving the goal I set in very different ways. Letting the kids look at each other’s code to see different techniques is a really important way to help them learn.

CIMG2489

2. Be prepared to say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you!”

Once you introduce children to the abstract world of programming, you will find that the questions start coming thick and fast, and there’s no stopping them. As the sessions progress and the kids’ questions become more sophisticated, you may find that they’re asking questions that are completely beyond you.

This is fantastic, as it shows that they are beginning to apply their new knowledge to new ideas! Many weeks I make notes of questions that I then follow up on with the children after an evening on the internet to fill in the blanks. The kids will teach you new things no matter what your level of programming experience is!

3. “You’ve shown me what it’s doing, but can you tell me why?”

One thing I noticed when handing out the Code Club project guides to the children at the start of the club session: some of them rush ahead, copying each code block until they are finished with half the session left. Yet they can’t tell me why their program worked.

To avoid this, what I now always do as we work through the projects is this: I get the group to take their hands off their keyboards (rule number one of our Code Club during questions), and I ask them to explain what their code is and why it’s doing what it’s doing. This way you can see if they’re gaining an understanding of the code as they’re developing it. It also encourages the kids to learn another major aspect of programming too — debugging the code!

Code Club - Labyrinth Coding FOL 22.06.17 VH (1)

4. Manage their expectations

Often the children do not understand the complexity of even simple programming projects, and you’ll have to curb that one kids who says they want to recreate Pokemon in Scratch, in an hour. My advice is to relate the projects you are doing at your Code Club to one big project so everyone can see that eventually, they’ll have the knowledge to make their own adventure game, with dozens of levels, enemies, scores, and much more.

Once you get them to see that a single program is actually dozens of smaller, manageable chunks, they will understand that creating a more-than-basic game takes far more time than they at first realise. It also gives them a realistic view of real-life programming.

5. “How do you think this works?”

As the club progresses, I’ve found that a great way of getting the kids to think in a different direction is to get them to reverse-engineer Scratch methods and games. By showing them a game where 75% of the code are things they know and 25% are new techniques, you can see if they’re able to figure out how the creator got to the final program.

This also makes the kids think about how code components work together, and how programs work as a whole. An example I’ve used a lot is making a tennis game where the ball goes back and forth, and grows and shrinks with a pseudo-3D effect. This will get your club members thinking about how they can make 2D objects appear to move in a 3D way.

Meet the Code Club community

The Code Club community is full of enthusiastic volunteers like Richard who are more than happy to provide you with tips and advice for running your own club.

We host regular meetups across the UK where you can meet other volunteers and share what each of you has learnt about how to run and grow your clubs. Find out when the next event near you is happening at www.codeclub.org.uk/communities-and-events.