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.  

 

Come along to a Code Club meetup!

by Katharine Childs, Code Club Regional Coordinator for East Midlands

Meetups are a great way for anyone running a Code Club to get ongoing support and for anyone new to find out more. Run by our team of Regional Coordinators, they take place all around the country and are a relaxed, informal way to meet others in the Code Club community to share experiences, swap tips and hear the latest Code Club news.

Last month our Derby meetup took place at the Silk Mill Museum, and had a mixture of existing volunteers, new volunteers and hosts who came along to chat, eat doughnuts and tinker with tech for a couple of hours.

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Lots of clubs had received BBC micro:bits back in September 2016, and more clubs were applying in the second round of applications this year, so we had three of the Code Club micro:bit projects on display to play with.

We had a great talk from a host who plans to set up several clubs in a Radio Communication Museum later this year.  Several volunteers were looking for a venue to volunteer at, and so were able to chat to all the hosts who were there and link up to get a Code Club started. As one attendee said, “I found the evening fascinating, enlightening and enjoyable.  All in all, a first class meetup.”

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For clubs who had done lots of the Scratch projects and were considering what to do next, there was a presentation about our Python projects including some information on how to use the online coding environment Trinket. This led onto a really interesting discussion about the challenges of using a text-based programming language with children aged 9 – 11, and we crowd-sourced community tips such as:

  • linking back to children’s literacy skills when checking the syntax of their code
  • commenting sections of code to explain what they do and modelling patient
  • methodical debugging by getting it wrong yourself and then working through how to put it right.  

Is there a meetup coming up near you? Find out more on our events page and come along. Whether you’re a host or a volunteer, looking to get involved or running an existing club, there’s bound to be something for you!

Photos credit: Samathy Barratt, new Code Club volunteer