SVW 2017: student volunteers inspiring the next generation

svwwebsiteAs part of Student Volunteering Week, we’re profiling some of the awesome people who work with Code Club student volunteers to run clubs and help inspire the next generation to get excited about coding and digital making.

Chriss McGlone-Atkinson is Network Manager at the Flying Bull Academy and runs the school’s Code Club a alongside student volunteers from the University of Portsmouth. He told us a bit more about why he got involved, and how his club is run…


I first found out about Code Club when I was approached by another member of staff, who was in the process of setting up a reading group with volunteers from the University of Portsmouth.  The staff at the University explained to us that they were working with Code Club and asked whether we’d be interested.  I’d been looking to set up a coding club, but finding time to prepare resources and run the sessions had been difficult, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a club started. The partnership with the University has taken the entire burden off of me, with well-prepared resources and volunteers willing to run the sessions.

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We started our club last year, and run every Monday for an hour.  We have approximately fifteen children from years five and six, with many more interested in joining at a later date.  There are currently three student volunteers from the University of Portsmouth who run the sessions, and they have been absolutely fantastic for us.

In the club sessions we have been working through the Scratch projects supplied by Code Club, which the children have really engaged with, and look forward to each week.  

Last week we had a year 5 pupil who was overjoyed that he had managed to finish one of the projects we’d been working on.  He can sometimes struggle to pick up certain instructions, but the structured nature of the projects has enabled him to make steady progress in the weeks since we began the club.  The children take real ownership of their projects and work hard to complete them, therefore to see how happy he was just confirmed to me how effective the club has been.

We have now begun using some of the Code Club projects in our computing lessons, and those children who are members of the club have been assisting their teachers in the delivery and support of the lessons.  I would expect going forward that we continue this practice, as children take pride in being able to take responsibility for the development of their peers.

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Code Club and the University of Portsmouth have been so supportive in helping get our club up and running, having taken out all the stress of resourcing and running the sessions.  I’d highly recommend speaking to them if you’re interested in setting up a Code Club.

Find out more about what Code Club can offer for student volunteers and for schools.

SVW 2017: supporting Code Club’s student volunteers

svwwebsiteIt’s Student Volunteering Week! And to celebrate, this year we’re profiling some of those who work with Code Club’s student volunteers to help them in running clubs. Student Hubs are just one of the organisations that have been supporting our work with students across the country. We spoke to Rachel Tait, Student Hubs’ Network Operations Manager, who told us about their work with over 50 Code Club student volunteers from a wide range of universities who work with pupils at over a dozen schools…

But what brings students to Code Club? Rachel explained to us a bit about what motivations students have to volunteer their time to Code Club: “The three primary motivations are to improve things / help people, to develop skills, and to gain work experience. It’s almost always a combination of these things. Applicants have been evenly split across first, second and third year students, which shows that it’s a relevant opportunity whether you’ve just started uni or are graduating soon. 95% of applicants study a STEM subject, many of which involve programming, so it’s no surprise that this is a popular volunteering opportunity for them. The good news for non-STEM students is that the software used in Code Club, Scratch, is very easy to learn, so don’t be put off from giving it a go!”

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“There are definitely some common themes for what people get out of volunteering,” Rachel told us. “Volunteers find it very rewarding to see the children’s increasing interest and confidence in coding. The other is that volunteers gain valuable skills and experience themselves. Teachers agree as well, with one teacher telling us, ‘I think working with the student volunteers has given our children some understanding of where their education can take them, what university is and has raised their aspirations to go to university when they are older.’”

Rachel also mentioned that volunteers can face challenges along the way. “It’s worth noting that volunteering with children in schools isn’t always smooth sailing. There have been issues such as low pupil attendance or challenging behaviour in the classroom, which can put volunteers off, but we’ve found that regular communication with the volunteers and additional coaching/training when necessary can help volunteers to solve problems themselves which makes their experience even more rewarding and developmental.”

Nevertheless, there has been a great response from students who have been volunteering with Code Club. In fact, the feedback has been unanimous; “100% of our 2015-16 Code Club volunteers would recommend volunteering with Code Club to a friend which speaks for itself. It’s a fantastic opportunity whether you’re looking to make a difference in your local community, learn basic programming, put your existing programming skills to use, or gain practical leadership, teamwork and communication experience. If you’re at Bristol, Brookes, Cambridge, Kingston, Oxford, Southampton or Winchester, please contact your local Hub team to find out how we can support you to become a Code Club volunteer. If you’re at any other uni, visit the Code Club website.”

Rik explains…Debugging your code

Code Club’s Senior Content and Curriculum Manager, Rik Cross, is not only in charge of creating the amazing projects in our curriculum – he also runs a Code Club in his local school in Leeds. His brain is full of amazing knowledge that we thought we ought to tap into more regularly, so we’ve started a blog series, which we’ve dubbed “Rik explains”. This blog tackles a common issue a lot of volunteers face in Code Clubs: fixing bugs in Scratch…


Something I sometimes see in my own Code Club is children putting up their hand and saying “My code doesn’t work” and sitting back and expecting me to fix it!

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Often, it can be a lot of code, developed over a few weeks. As I’ve not written the code myself, initially I don’t know how to fix their code any more than they do. As I’m helping children to fix their code, I try to share my thought process with them, in the hope that I can empower children to fix their own code, especially at times when I may not be on hand to help them.

Here are some practical techniques that can be used to debug Scratch code….

1) Code is usually read many more times than it is written. It is helpful to comment scripts with their intended purpose, as well as commenting blocks (or sets of blocks) for which the effects aren’t immediately obvious.

2) As projects get larger, it can often be frustrating to run an entire script just to check whether the last few newly added blocks work as expected. Groups of blocks can be separated from their containing script and clicked, allowing them to be tested in isolation. They can then be dragged back into the main script once they have been tested.

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3) It helps to make script output as visible as possible. Variables can be displayed by checking the tickbox next to the variable name. The variable name will then be displayed on the stage, along with the current value. You can also do the same with some sprite and project properties

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‘Say’ blocks can also be used to make code output more visible, and individual blocks can be tested by simply clicking them — they don’t need to be attached to a script in order to be run!

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4) Slowly stepping through scripts can be achieved through the use of ‘wait’ or ‘wait until key pressed’ blocks, slowing down the execution of a complex or fast-moving code;

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5) Testing expected and unexpected user input can lead to making a script more robust. For example, take a look at the following script:

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What would happen if we ran the above code and answered “‘yeah” or “yep”? We could make the script above more robust by allowing for more than one positive answer:

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You could even achieve this by using a list of accepted answers:

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6) One final technique I want to mention is the use of cheats as a testing method. Although children often see cheats as a way of making playing a game easier, they were first introduced to make play testing easier. Before a game is released, the entire game has to be rigorously tested, and cheats make this easier. For example. How can you test the last level of a game without having to repeatedly play previous levels? A good cheat shouldn’t be easily discoverable, or interfere with normal play. Combinations of key presses work well, but children also really enjoy creating tiny 1-pixel sprites that can be clicked to activate a cheat or other ‘Easter egg.

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Sharing techniques with children to spot and fix problems in their Scratch projects themselves will empower them, giving them more ownership of their creations. This is especially important for lifelong learning, at times in the future where there may not be an educator on hand to help them. In fact, many of the strategies covered in this workshop are used in industry by software development teams!