How a ZX81 inspired a creative coder

Twelve-year-old Dan Powell was first introduced to coding on a ZX81. Nearly 40 years later, he is now Programme Manager for Code Club.

Find out how Dan’s early days of coding influenced his career, what his current coding project is, and how he is now sharing his love of coding with his daughters.

It all started with a ZX81

When I was 12, my parents bought me a ZX81 for Christmas. I spent hours in my bedroom in Essex copying lines of BASIC from the pages of Sinclair User, but once I had my Computer Science O level, my computing education stopped.

Jump forward to several years later, and my career took me into the arts as a sound artist. My early years experimenting with my ZX81 allowed me to see a computer as a great creative resource.

Dan performing as a sound artist
Photo credit: Agata Urbaniak

As a sound artist, I was always looking at ways to write my own instruments and build special effects.

I started to feel confident to try out different programs, which included FruityLoops, Ableton Live, and AudioMulch, and then I started to use Pure Data in early 2000. This opened up many doors in my creative journey, along with building some basic interfaces with the support of the Pure Data community.

Fast forward to 2015

I joined the Code Club team in 2015, where I support the Code Club regional team, and help to build the awesome community of Code Club volunteers and people who host clubs.

At Code Club, we always say that whether you’re an experienced coder or an absolute beginner, volunteering at your local Code Club is a great way to expand your digital skills. I have met many volunteers who are still learning to code, but share their skills to inspire people to get involved in digital making.

Dan with some of the regional team he supports

A lifelong learner

I am continuing to learn, and at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we’re encouraged to keep learning by attending regular Maker Days held in our offices.

Every month, staff get together to code, build, and make. I work on different projects — sometimes I try out a project that the Content Team at the Raspberry Pi Foundation is working on and would like feedback on. Recently, I’ve also been trying to learn how to design my own printed circuit board, and during Maker Days, I have been able to get support from colleagues who have more experience than me.

Encouraging my daughters to code

I’ve been passing on some of the skills I’ve learnt to my daughters. I help run the Code Club at their school, and my eldest daughter took part in Astro Pi Mission Zero and has helped out at a Raspberry Jam that I’m involved in. She even ran some drop-in sessions on coding in Python!

Who knew that being gifted a ZX81 as a twelve-year-old boy would lead to all of this?

Dan with his daughter learning to code

Could you inspire the next generation to code? Code Club has a range of volunteer opportunities, and remember, you don’t need to be a coding genius to get involved!

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From Wonder Woman to Code Club — find out more about Blender

Did you know that the film credit sequences of Wonder Woman were created using Blender? We think that’s pretty cool!

Craig Fisk, a volunteer at Elton Primary School in Cheshire, has introduced Code Club Blender projects to his club. He shares with us how he got started and his top tips for anyone who wants to give Blender a try.

Why did you start using Blender in your Code Club?

When I discovered the Blender projects on the Code Club projects website,
I immediately thought, “I have to teach Blender to the children at Code Club, I know they will love it!” I studied 3D modelling and animation at university, so I know how much fun it can be to create and animate things in 3D.

An example of the Blender Party monkey project

How did you get started?

During half-term, I asked the school IT technician to install Blender on the machines in the IT suite. Then, we were ready to go!

To introduce Blender to the Code Club, I started by giving a little talk at the start of the first session and explained how software like Blender is used in the children’s favourite video games, movies, and TV programmes. Once they heard that, they were sold, and super enthusiastic to give it a go — so much so that they went through two projects in the first session!

What’s next?

We’ve now worked our way through all of the Blender projects, and are starting to work on some more animation projects. My plan is to get them to work collaboratively to create a new scene which they will animate. Each student will build something to put into the scene, which we will then combine, and then they can all have a go at animating it.

Blender in action at Craig’s club

What did you learn?

I was impressed at how quickly all the children picked up Blender, as it can look like quite a complex piece of software when you first open it. In the first couple of sessions, I had to make sure to keep reminding them to right-click to select things, but after that, they rarely had any trouble at all.

Do have any tips to share?

The best tip I can give to organisers and volunteers for getting started with Blender is to have a play around with the first few projects. Try to memorise the main controls for panning, rotating, and selecting things in 3D space.

It can take a bit of getting used to, as the controls are very different from most other programs you may have used. If you’ve mastered these, you will most likely be able to solve 90% of any of the issues that the children run into on their projects.

There’s a couple of things to watch out for, like adding a new object into the scene whilst still in edit mode on another object, meaning the two objects get stuck together rather than being separate — but it’s nothing that the ‘undo’ command can’t solve!

Try the ‘Colour a snowman’ project and teach yourself how to colour objects. My students absolutely loved colouring their creations from the get-go!

Has Craig inspired you to try Blender with your Code Club? Share your projects with us on Facebook or Twitter, or reach out to us at support@codeclub.org.


From a coding beginner to running a successful Code Club

Nina was an absolute beginner to coding and had no experience of working with children, but now she runs a Code Club from the Raspberry Pi Foundation office in Cambridge twice a month, in partnership with the Cambridge Refugee Resettlement Campaign. Nina’s story is a great example of how anyone can set up and run a Code Club.

Nina’s motivation to set up a Code Club

Nina works for the Raspberry Pi Foundation as the Translation Community Manager. In her spare time, she volunteers at the Cambridge Refugee Resettlement Campaign. She was keen to bring both organisations together, giving new opportunities to children and families who have been resettled in Cambridge.  


I work for the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Seeing the amazing work we do as an organisation inspired me to take personal responsibility for giving children the opportunity to experience coding and technology.
 
– Nina Szymor, Code Club volunteer

Nina Szymor supporting a member of her Code Club

You don’t need to be a coding genius

At Code Club, we often say that you don’t have to be a coding genius to set up a Code Club, and Nina is a great example of this. With no background in coding or working with children, she used the resources Code Club offers to gain the confidence to set up a club.


I don’t have a technical background or experience working with kids; I needed some support and guidance. Code Club is perfect for people like me, as all the resources are handed to you, and you are guided by the Code Club team.
 
– Nina Szymor, Code Club volunteer

She goes on to say:


For each session, I have to go through the project we will be working on so that I can guide the children and help them when they struggle, so I’m learning the same programming concepts as they are. I also noticed that I started analysing my teaching methods to try and find better ways. It’s definitely a big challenge, and I love it!

The group has made great progress

The club launched in September 2018, with the support of a group of fantastic volunteers. At the start, some of the children who attended were unable to use a mouse. Now, the children have successfully completed Module 1 of Scratch, creating some great games and animations!   

Recently, new members joined who were unable to speak English. To help with the language barrier, one girl who had attended from the beginning stepped in and started to translate, explaining to new members how to use Scratch and the project resources.


It was really great to see how confident she was and how easy it was for her to teach others what she had already learned. I think it was really empowering for her, and it was great for us to see how she has developed.
 
– Nina Szymor
, Code Club volunteer

A reason to celebrate

After the first term, to acknowledge the club finishing Module 1 of Scratch, Nina arranged a celebration to recognise the children’s hard work and achievements. Code Club certificates were printed off and handed out and parents were invited to see what their children had been working on.


The parents brought chocolates and biscuits, there was lots of laughter and happiness at receiving certificates, and generally such a lovely and friendly atmosphere. It was one of my best moments of 2018.
 
– Nina Szymor,
Code Club volunteer

Why Nina loves volunteering


I love seeing the pure joy on children’s faces when they make something work, and knowing that I may have contributed to them realising that computers and coding are for everyone — something I didn’t have as a child.
 
– Nina Szymor,
Code Club volunteer

Has Nina’s story inspired you to volunteer at a Code Club? Take a look at our website and see how you can get involved. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter too.