How to build a Code Club from scratch

When starting your own Code Club, it is useful to remember that there are literally thousands of people who have gone through the process before you.

Here, Code Club volunteer Darren explains how he went from Raspberry Pi tinkerer to Code Club leader. Darren started by supporting a modest club of eight kids, and now he runs sessions with more than 20, including children with Special Educational Needs (SEN).

Staring a Code Club from Scratch

My name’s Darren, I’m 49, and I love Raspberry Pi and Code Club!

I’ve been a Code Club volunteer for around 18 months, but I first started doing stuff in my son’s primary school when I launched a Raspberry Pi Club to teach physical computing. The club had eight kids, and we used some Pi Zeros that I had, as well as six sets of monitors, mice, and keyboards donated by a local company changing its IT setup.

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From there I also started a Digital Makers Club, allowing kids to choose their own projects to work on. Here I learned my first lesson: if you have no teaching experience, having six primary school students doing six different projects is quite hard to manage! But we all learned loads that term, and we had six great projects at the end of it.

Then I began my own Code Club (starting with Scratch), so I was running three clubs each week — a very busy year! In July, we held a afternoon of show-and-tell for the rest of the school, and everyone loved it.

By the next school year, the Code Club was very popular, with some of the kids wanting to progress to Python and some younger ones wanting to start to learn. I ended up with 23 students of a wide range of ages and abilities. This would have been impossible to manage if my older students weren’t brilliant at helping to support the younger novices — and they really enjoy passing on their knowledge!

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Darren’s Code Club created a traffic junction simulation that is coded in Scratch

Supporting children with SEN

Supporting children with Special Educational Needs as part of my Code Club has been incredibly rewarding. My first club member with SEN was a boy with ADHD and dyslexia. After his first session, I had a chat with the school’s SEN Coordinator who gave me excellent advice. For example, I learned to print projects onto pastel-coloured paper in order to make the text more readable for him. The next week, the boy stayed focused and engaged for the whole hour. I now make a point of speaking to our SEN Coordinator at the beginning of each term to talk through the list of students and discuss their needs.

Top tips

Showing children how they can use technology to create things instead of just consuming them is amazing! Code Club also builds resilience and problem-solving skills, which help the kids in their regular classes.

If you are thinking about starting your own Code Club, my advice is: just do it! Being part of Code Club has massive benefits for the adults involved as well, especially those who want to improve their computer science skills.

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Under the hood of the traffic junction simulation

Another tip is to tell parents not to stand outside the classroom waiting for the club to finish, but to come in and see what the kids have been doing. I love hearing the parents’ amazement at just what these kids are capable of, especially the students who may not be doing so well in their day-to-day lessons.

Finally, remember there is no right or wrong way to run a Code Club. Each club is different, depending on the location, available hardware, mix of attendees, and skills of the volunteers. Don’t worry if the kids go in a different direction than you planned. Let them have fun, and they will learn without even realising!

Volunteering with Code Club is easy!

Has reading this blog made you feel that you, like Darren, could help the next generation to get coding?

Find out how you can get started with Code Club today at www.codeclub.org.uk/start-a-club.

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.

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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!

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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.