25 November 2015, by Tom Bell
At Softwire, we’re firm believers in the benefits of using our technical expertise to make a positive impact on society. As part of that effort, we run a weekly after-school coding club at nearby Tufnell Park Primary School, teaching children aged 9-11 the basic concepts of programming (and having lots of fun along the way!). The prospect of starting up a club was a bit daunting at first, but luckily the whole process is made much easier thanks to Code Club, a nationwide organisation that aims to facilitate the process by putting volunteers in contact with local schools and providing a wealth of teaching materials. Sharing the task of organising and running the club between four of us has also made the time commitment much easier to manage and we’ve found the whole experience to be really rewarding.
Code Club have some excellent resources available, including step-by-step worksheets for projects that suit a wide range of experience levels. For children joining the club for the first time, Scratch has proved to be an excellent tool for teaching basic programming concepts, it conveys these concepts in a fun and visually appealing way. Keeping the children engaged in what they’re doing is crucial, so projects that focus on creating games and animations have generally proven to be the biggest hits.
I’m always amazed by how quickly the children grasp the basic concepts (what is an if statement, a for-loop, etc.) so we also aim to encourage the collaborative and problem-solving aspects of programming, skills that we value highly at Softwire, as well. We’ve found that an excellent way to reinforce those concepts is to go beyond the original scope of the project and ask the children to invent extra features they’d like to add to their game. We then chat with them about what code they might need to add to make it work, then let them explore the ideas themselves. This really helps to fire their imagination and they definitely take more personal pride in the result. We’re also fortunate that Tufnell Park school has a blog page where we’ve been able to highlight some of the great projects that the children have created, and this public recognition really helps to encourage them and reward their hard work.
Overall, we’ve really enjoyed the Code Club experience. We’re constantly struck by how enthusiastic the children are about coding and how eager they are to explore new ideas, once they realise that coding isn’t some mysterious and difficult art form, but really a form of puzzle-solving. It’s especially great to see them take the skills they’ve learnt and use them to create their own games, since programming is as much a creative endeavour as it is a technical one.
We have lots of ideas for new projects to explore this year, and with the success of last year’s effort, we now have enough new volunteers within Softwire that we’re planning to expand, with the hope of starting a new club in another nearby school after Christmas! We hope to give another update on our progress then.