Why we volunteer for Code Club

At Code Club we are lucky to have thousands of volunteers who give their valuable time each week to help us on our mission to get young people coding. This National Volunteers’ Week, Caroline Vaan-Canning, our Regional Coordinator for the South West, reflects on what it is that makes people volunteer their time for Code Club.

Time is a funny thing that means different things to different people: numerous physicists and thinkers have attempted to define time, and no single definition is universally accepted.

I have been the Code Club Regional Coordinator for the South West for two years, and in that time, I have had the privilege to meet some of the most wonderful volunteers any charity could hope for. Be they educators, technology professionals, students, or parents, they are all united by their willingness to donate their time in order to support young people learning to code.

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Caroline volunteering at Code Club

Why do these lovely people volunteer for Code Club? I posed that question to four volunteers and received four different, insightful answers.

What motivates our volunteers

Elena from Somerset said she was inspired to volunteer after she saw the impact Code Club was having on her own children. “Code Club is a wonderful way to help children broaden their minds. My children couldn’t get enough of it, and we ended up going to all the sessions available at our local library. As a parent, I have watched my children’s skills grow. That’s the reason I became a volunteer — to help other children’s minds grow too.”

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Members of Elena’s Code Club recently won the Scratch category at Coolest Projects UK

Meanwhile, KS2 Computer Science educator Neil told me about how being a volunteer has allowed him to develop his own skills. He said: “By running a Code Club, you are not only helping young people to understand the whole coding ethos, but also the way it works in the world around them. As a bonus, we also get to learn with them and have a great time while doing so. You may even get a new career out of it!”

For software engineer and STEM Ambassador Milo, it’s the pure enjoyment of Code Club that keeps him coming back: “Working with children to create fun and imaginative projects is both enjoyable and rewarding. The ideas they come up with often shock me due to their ingenuity and eccentricity.”

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Milo, Elena and Steve at Code Club

Finally, it was a desire to share his love for coding that led software developer Steve to volunteer with Code Club. He said: “For volunteers, Code Club provides the opportunity to share a passion and enthusiasm for coding, and it is very rewarding to see the children develop. For children, Code Club gives them the opportunity to learn a great skill in a fun and engaging manner.”

Why you should volunteer with Code Club

These volunteers and others like them know that life is simply better when you give something back: an hour spent at Code Club doing something to make someone else’s day better, makes your own day better too.

From my own volunteering experience I know that donating time to Code Club can truly make a difference to everyone involved. As a volunteer, the Code Club learning resources help you advance your problem-solving abilities, and encourage you to build your own ideas, no matter what level your coding skills were at before you started. It’s why the Code Club volunteering network continues to grow across the world.

If you are reading this as one of the many wonderful volunteers out there, I just want to say a huge thank you to you for supporting Code Club. If you know someone who would benefit from volunteering with us, please spread the word to them by sharing our website on Twitter and Facebook, or by inviting them to our next meetup.

Helping others start a Code Club

After becoming a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator at Picademy, the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s free face-to-face teacher training initiative, Kyle Wilke was inspired to start a Code Club to give students at his school and teachers in California more access to coding and making.

After attending Picademy, I was inspired to start a Code Club of my own in the computer lab at the school where I teach. The first week of the club, I introduced my students to Scratch, and we looked at project examples from across the community before starting to work through the Code Club projects. For the first two years I ran the club alone, and this year I reached out to our Parent-Teacher Association and was able to get multiple volunteers attending each session. Having volunteers has been a game changer for our club, and it’s great seeing them learn alongside the students!

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Building confidence

Students love coming to Code Club to hang out with friends and learn how to code. When they leave, they are always telling me about how they will continue working on their project at home, or that they plan to buy a Raspberry Pi.

A favorite memory from my Code Club is when one student, a pretty shy kid who didn’t interact with many other students socially, jumped at the opportunity to become our first Code Club student mentor. During Code Club, I asked him to assist another child, saying that they were in good hands as the student mentor knew more than I did. The next week, when someone raised their hand for help and I started to make my way over, my student mentor popped up and said, “I’ll be right there, I know more than Mr. Wilke.” Hearing this new-found confidence was music to my ears!
 

Helping others start their Code Clubs

Once I’d experienced the joy of facilitating a Code Club, I knew I had to share it with the world and help train other teachers to get started. I currently help run Code Club training at conferences in the US, supporting teachers in learning to use Raspberry Pis and how to start a Code Club. In training sessions I always emphasise that the leader doesn’t need to be a computer science expert. You can learn alongside your students, and Code Club’s step-by-step coding guides allow the students to work at their own pace, with only limited adult instruction necessary. Educators always love how flexible the program is and how there are many different ways you can structure the club to work in your environment.

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I spread the word about Code Club because of what it creates: on the surface, students are following coding guides and working on individual projects, but upon closer inspection, they are learning invaluable concepts like computational thinking and collaboration. Bringing a Code Club to your community creates a safe place for students to code, play, and learn together. Raspberry Pi Certified Educators like to say that Picademy helped them find their people — Code Club helps kids find their people, and their very own coding community.

My advice to anyone thinking of starting a Code Club is to go for it! When I started mine, I had very little experience using Scratch — I even told my students that on many projects we would be learning together. If you are thinking of starting a club, I really can’t recommend it enough!

Get involved

Picademy sessions run throughout the year in the UK and North America. Keep an eye on the Picademy webpage or Raspberry Pi’s Twitter feed to find out when the next round is taking place. And if you don’t want to wait, you can sign up today for our free online FutureLearn course on preparing to start a Code Club here.

Wherever you are in the world, head to www.codeclubworld.org to find out how to start a Code Club in your community.

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.