A man and a boy in front of a computer

T.E.D., the Talk Enabled Development project

At Code Club, we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to learn to code. So when we heard about a club that had found a new and unique way to support a blind child’s coding, Katharine Childs, Regional Coordinator for the East Midlands, went along to find out more.

Young students in a computer lab

Introducing Ted

I was welcomed to Farnsfield St Michael’s C of E Primary VA School in Nottinghamshire by teacher Rob Fry and volunteer Steve Barton. Steve is a software developer, and he set up the club earlier this year to run once a week for a group of around 30 Year 3 and 4 students. One of these children is eight-year-old Ted, who is visually impaired. Initially, Rob used a BigTrak to do physical programming with Ted, but Rob and Steve wanted to find a way to help Ted to use Scratch, the programming environment used in many Code Club projects. Steve said:

I was keen to get Ted sat in front of a computer creating his own imaginative projects that he could share with the club, just as the other kids were doing.

Steve started by researching other coding tools for children with visual impairments, but he couldn’t quite find what he was looking for. Undaunted, he decided to write his own system.

EXTERNAL - Farnsfield St Michaels Nov 2017

Steve and Ted

Introducing T.E.D.

Steve explained:

I started tinkering with Scratch to see if I could leverage its excellent sound library along with some of the key code categories to give Ted that real coding experience. [The tool] had to use the keyboard as little as possible — just the arrow keys to navigate and the space bar to select an option. And of course, it had to have audible prompts, so I set to recording my own voice for that. Ted likes Star Wars and Thunderbirds, so I downloaded some sound bites for him to use in his projects.

The result is T.E.D., the Talk Enabled Development project, which I saw in action during my visit. Ted told me that he really likes coding and would miss being able to take part in Code Club with the other children if he didn’t have T.E.D. to use.

You can try the Scratch project for yourself here. To Steve, T.E.D. is very much a work in progress, and he listens carefully to Ted’s feedback about bugs and features. Next on Steve’s list is to improve the way that projects are saved.

Steve and Rob do everything they can to ensure that Ted is included in every aspect of the club. At the end of last term, every child was presented with a Code Club certificate, and Steve got Ted’s translated into Braille.

The Code Club community

We’d like to congratulate Steve on being an outstanding volunteer who has demonstrated a fantastic commitment to the ethos of Code Club being open to everyone. We welcome everyone to share their own stories with us via our social media channels and with their Regional Coordinators.

If you’d like to start a Code Club in your local community, host a club at your premises or school, or volunteer at an existing club, you can find information on this on the Code Club website. Prospective volunteers, interested parents, and educators are welcome to join us at our free regional meetups — find an event near you here. You can also enrol in our free online training course Prepare to run a Code Club, which will help you build your skills and gain the confidence to start your own club.

Run a Code Club at your Library!

Interested in getting a Code Club started in your local library? We asked Julie Gibson, Branch Library Manager for Omagh Library in Northern Ireland, about her experience running a club. Here is what she says:

robot-015Libraries are all about reading and learning, including about the use of technology, and one of the Libraries NI objectives is to help bridge the digital divide. With this in mind, I thought we were a perfect location for offering local children access to what is essentially taking words (code) and creating a story (program), whether an animation or a game.

After some thought and discussion regarding the practicalities, Libraries NI’s first Code Club met in Omagh Library in January 2016 with 10 children registered. Children have busy lives with homework and after-school clubs, so we decided to run sessions alongside school terms on Saturday mornings, which is also a time our computers are not in high demand.

We were lucky to have Una, Code Club’s Regional Coordinator for Northern Ireland, as our volunteer for the first term, and she got everyone, staff and children, motivated to learn to code by setting up a real whack-a-mole game using Makey Makey, play dough and Scratch!  

Faced with their first coding project the children were enthusiastic. Coding mixes logic with creativity, a great foundation for any child: focus on learning the basics, follow the steps, consider the consequences, and let your imagination soar!

Robot - 002I have to say this is one of the quietest children’s clubs I have ever hosted, as they are all so absorbed by the code, except for occasional outburst of joy at creating something new or of despair at the project not working.  When the latter happens it is usually enough to remind the children to check that they have followed the steps in the worksheet – success is in the detail – and there is always another club member to help if someone needs it. Anyone who finishes a project early either moves on to a new project or goes back over the project they have completed and tweaks it to make it their own, choosing new sprites, stages and conversations. At the end of the term each club member receives a certificate as proof of their accomplishment.

My best Code Club moment? This has to be every time a child’s eyes light up when they see what they have achieved – proving that coding is for everyone.

Learn more about the potential of Code Clubs in libraries by watching our short video on Youtube, you can also sign up on our website.

Family Learning with Code Club

We’re always interested to hear about new ways of engaging different people to learn more about coding and digital making. So when we heard that Leicester Libraries and Leicester City Council’s Family Learning team have been running a pilot project using Code Clubs to encourage parents and children to learn new skills together, we wanted to find out how they had got on.

The pilot was launched in a number of libraries in Leicester. Alison Greet, Family Learning Coordinator for Leicester City Council, told us why they decided to pilot with Code Club: “The Family Learning team wanted a way to work with parents to demystify the coding activities children were covering in school, so that we could help parents to help their children…The training that Code Club was offering gave us a way of piloting a course for parents and children working to code together in our libraries.”

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Running the pilot:

The club sessions ran for six weeks, focussing on Scratch projects in 1.5-hour weekly sessions. Parents and children sat together and worked through the step-by-step instructions. Two staff members ran the sessions; this allowed one to focus on setting everything up, while the other helped out those who needed more support. The clubs encouraged collaborative learning; Sandy Gibbons from Leicester Libraries explained that “the atmosphere is supportive and collaborative with children being encouraged (or, in some cases, invited) to help each other or show ways to extend the projects.”

Alison added, “club leaders are not IT experts, but they found that the projects were easy to follow and deliver with confidence. The structured projects with clear instructions also enable independent learning outside club time. Skills are built logically and reinforced by repetition in later projects. Skills learnt as part of Code Club projects can be used on the Scratch website to create other projects at home.”

The benefits of running a Code Club:

Lots of new friendships were formed in Code Clubs, and with those friendships came increased Robot E copyconfidence. Sandy explains, “one family specifically joined the club due to a child’s difficulties in interacting independently with groups. There was also great feedback from the adults, who reported their pleasure in having a shared interest that they and their child could talk about and work on at home.”

One of the volunteers said, “seeing parents and children working and progressing together is brilliant. The families really grow, taking responsibility for their learning through taking away evaluations to work on at home and continuing with projects in their own time. Code Club encourages parents to learn both alongside their children and independently, seeing how the children learn.”  

There were also fantastic responses from all families at the end of the course: all have asked to be contacted about further Code Club courses:

Robot 003“I really look forward to the Coding Club each week. I spent a lot of time together with my daughter and feel really happy when I see her using her imagination and IT skills. She loves spending time on IT which is great for her future.”

“The projects are challenging, but, with a bit of brainstorming, we figured it out! Good mum-and-son teamwork!”

“Our family really enjoyed this club. It has given us a chance, as a family, to build our child’s confidence. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience Code Club as adults.”