On Wednesday evening, May 24th 2017 I met with Geoff Wales, one of the organisers of the CoderDojo @ Intel Security in Mahon.
This meeting was just an introduction as I wanted to get a brief insight into this Coderdojo, who runs it, how it’s run and what the children do during a typical coderdojo class before I conduct a more formal semi-structured interview next week.
Chat with Geoff
I had a brief dicussion with Geoff for approximately 20 minutes before the children started to arrive. He told me that he is with the company (Intel Security) for four years and he became involved with Coderdojo soon after he started. He was also GAA coach in his local club with his son from the age of 6 and his son is now 17. He liked helping children to learn. The Coderdojo @ Intel is one of the longest running in Cork (the original Coderdojo started across from Intel but it has since shutdown) and has been running for what he thinks is about 5 and half to 6 years. He has a background in Food Science but in 2010 the company he worked for folded and he was out of work for a year before deciding to change direction and he went back to college in CIT and did a course in Computer Science and Coding and after that he began work at Intel. The coderdojo @ Intel is not advertised (open to the children of those who work in the building) and it is voluntary. For him the key thing about the Coderdojo was problem-solving. He wants them to come into an environment where they learn how to solve problems. He doesn’t teach the children, he doesn’t force them to learn code. He doesn’t want to put them off it or make them hate it and never leave because for him, coding isn’t for everyone. He doesn’t give the children exercises to do, they can do whatever they want. He said some children watch youtube videos, some draw pictures on the screen and some are actively involved in coding. Some do their own exercises outside of the class. However, if a child comes in and they have no experience of coding (e.g. an 8 year old), he teaches them “Pong” which is a game from the 1970s where he gets the child to move a ball from one side of the screen to the other, hitting off each side like a ping-pong ball. But if they don’t want to do it, he doesn’t make them. There are about 5 volunteers who help out at the Coderdojo but they are not there every week. He requires parental help because the children are free to ask him questions but he needs parents to be there to talk to the children while he is working with another child. They need someone to talk to if they get stuck. He doesn’t have a set programme that he follows every week, they like to change things up and try different things. He claims that some parents have a different view about what their Coderdojo is about – some parents think their children will be codiing experts by the end of it but they won’t be and for him it is more about problem solving than learning how to code. The children learn how to code in “Scratch” because they can copy and paste more content into it without making typing errors. In Geoff’s opinion to succeed as a Software engineer, you require more than coding skills, you need patience and you need to be tenacious because you will make plenty of mistakes and there is a lot of people working together to make the complicated product easy to use for the end user. He is also against introducing Coding into the school curriculum because he feel the schools chould stick to teaching the things children have to learn – for him coding isn’t for everyone and if it forced on a child, they won’t want to do it and they will end up hating it. With Coderdojo, when it comes to making CAO choices, the children who completed Coderdojo will at least be able to say I can do that and it will be up to them if they want to or not. He said he likes to encourage group work between the children, he wants them to make friends. The company provides some laptops for the Coderdojo but he said they aren’t great and the children can also chose to bring their own. The children don’t have to sign up at the beginning, they can chose to come for one week or for the entire term or to a few classes, it is completely their choice. They have approximately 20 each week and the most comon age of attendees is 8-13. From his observations, sometimes the girls like making quizes whereas the boys are more into the technical stuff.
The Coderdojo Class
I just took a few brief observation notes from the first half hour of the class. The children began arriving just before 6pm and upon arrival they all receive a frees soft drink. The children set up their computers themselves, plugging them in, turning them on etc. It was clear that this wasn’t their first class. The class took place in the staff canteen and the children were spread a cross the room. The children who knew each stuck together, friends and siblings. There was only two mentors at this class, both were helping students. Geoff was helping two children who had no experience of coding. Five parents remained with their children during the duration of the class. From my observation, the class was very informal and self-taught, the children learn for themselves. There was no formal introduction. There was 15 participants this week. There wasn’t much collaboration or group work going on apart from between the two or three children who already knew each other and were sitting together. Children didn’t move around. I expected to be more like a teahcer-student set up but it wasn’t like that at all. Some children could be seen playing games on the computer in “Scratch” and one group of children were quite verbal and loud as then talked to each other and looked at what they were each doing. One of the boys asked a question and the other boy beside him helped him to solve his problem “How do you delete the sprite?” Other children worked quitely on their own. One girl could be seen working off of a worksheet but I don’t know where she got this from – whether it was her own or if the mentors provided it.
I will return to this Coderdojo next week to conduct a semi-structured interview with Geoff before the class begins.