Building coders one block at a time
6 MIN READ
I can see a bear and a cat on the laptop screen. What’s going on here?
I’m trying to make the bear move more slowly than the cat.
Is the cat going to chase the bear?
No, just like walk around behind him.
How do you make him do that?
You drag this block across over here and it makes the bear and cat move.
You just put that block of code inside a bigger block called ‘Forever’ what does that do?
It does it over and over.
Cormac, aged 7, using Scratch to code a simple game at CoderDojo.
CoderDojo: helping kids to program (and enjoy it)
Coders are badly needed to fill roles in a wide range of IT companies. Kids are interested in learning to code but don’t always get the opportunity. What’s the best solution? CoderDojo is not-for-profit that runs a global network of free coding clubs for children aged between 7 and 17. The clubs are run by volunteers in the local community and are open to all. Alan Murphy from CoderDojo has been working with Bank of Ireland since 2015 helping our colleagues to become CoderDojo mentors, using our branches to teach coding in the evenings and arranging pop-up Dojos at Enterprise Town and other Bank events.
“There are tens of thousands of technology jobs in Ireland that can’t be filled by young Irish people. At the same time, Computer Science has one of the largest drop-out rates of all university courses. CoderDojo is a not-for-profit that aims to change that.”
Alan Murphy, CoderDojo
Coding, block by block, from ‘Scratch’
To start kids off on their coding journey, CoderDojo uses the Scratch programming language to help kids learn to code. The genius of Scratch is the way it transforms dry lines of code into colourful building blocks that click together satisfyingly. It’s a great way to get children to understand sophisticated concepts quickly. And it’s fun.
What are you doing?
I’m Eric. I’m 9. I’m making a fish tank.
I can see three fish swimming about.
I’m playing around with the numbers, putting them at different speeds.
How do you do that?
They’re the code blocks over there. If they’re (the fishes) on the edge they bounce off the tank. ‘Turn right and pick random 1 to 6 degrees’ – that makes them turn.
What are you going to do next?
I might change the colours of the three fishes.
How many times have you been to this CoderDojo?
I don’t know how many times – but it’s a few. It’s good here.
Transforming our IT Centre on Thursday evenings
As well as running CoderDojos in Bank of Ireland branches, there’s also a Dojo in our large IT Centre in Cabinteely, County Dublin. From the outside, it’s just a large commercial building but inside, in the evenings, it transforms into a kids’ coding club.
Sanjay Singh, a Senior Solution Architect who has been working for 17 years in Bank of Ireland was contacted by the CoderDojo Foundation Group in 2012.
“At that time,” explains Sanjay, ‘the nearest CoderDojo was in Stillorgan or Wicklow so I approached Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown council and we started one in the Grainstore in Cabinteely Park which now has over 60 children attending.”
Sanjay then began to explore whether the IT Centre itself could host a CoderDojo run by bank volunteers. “We had no experienced Dojo guys so I ran a small group of Bank of Ireland employees through a couple of sessions to give them introduction. We started the first CoderDojo in the IT Centre in 2016 with 25 kids and 5-7 trained adults.”
“Every class we start with a specific idea and a simple template but there is no strict way to do things. The kids will come up with things from their own imagination.”
My name’s Noel and I’m 10.
I can see you’ve got a wall and some grass on the screen.
So in the background I’m going to put little figures around and some bricks or something and this bowl of cheesy puffs has to get down to the finish.
The finish is at the bottom of the screen there, right?
Yes and it starts at the top. He might have to go down, down, down then in then come down to the bottom. So the down arrow is controlling the cheesy puffs.
The cheesy puffs are upside down now in the bowl but they’re not falling out.
No. I have to just get it along the path to the finish.
OK, I’ll leave you to it.
Instruction and imagination
Miriam Murphy’s children, Noel and Catherine, attend the CoderDojo at the IT Centre. “Catherine, in particular, seems to be very interested in it,” she says, “and this approach with the cards. They like having a target so they can see they’re making progress and are going to get something from it. Sanjay is very good at getting the packs out to everyone each week. There could be a tendency to copy but when you stand here you can see they are working it all out for themselves and improvising. There’s a dragon chasing a bat, for instance. The imagination knows no bounds.”
My name’s Mukilson and I’m 11 years old. No, actually, I’m 12 years old.
There are two helicopters at the top and is that line there the ground?
No, that’s a gateway.
In the air?
So what’s happening?
Right now, you don’t see the nanos. What happens is the helicopter goes over there, picks up the nanos and the gateway opens and they finish.
What are these four blocks of code, here – what do they do?
That’s the up arrow, the down arrow, the left arrow, the right arrow and that’s for controlling the first helicopter. And the W, A, S, D keys are for controlling the other helicopter so two people can play.
I can see a line of code that says ‘When spacekey press…’ What’s that for?
That’s for if you touch the nano and you press the spacebar they kinda get picked up and then it hides them up here.
Are these coding blocks easy to use?
Yeah, pretty easy.
Have you done this before?
Okay, thanks then.
‘Kids are excited to attend’
Miriam Murphy has seen the group develop. “What’s really evolved is how the kids work together. Initially, it was quiet and they worked on their own; none of them knew each other and they were plodding away. Now they’re up and talking to each other and asking questions. The kids remind me ‘today’s CoderDojo’, they’re excited to go in the evening after school.”
I’m Amelie and I’m 8 years old.
What are you going to show me?
Cats and mice – but I can’t get it to work.
Captain Mice? This sounds good.
No, cats and mice.
So what happens is you could do a shark and a fish or whatever you wanted and you had to make them chase so I just wanted to control the mouse and this is what you do. Okay let’s see.
The cat caught the mouse and said ‘I killed the mouse’. Game Over.
That was quick.
The cat was too quick! Let’s try it again. Oh, Game Over again.
I’m personally worried for you as a mouse.
I’m just going to move out of the cat’s way! I know what I’ll do.
Maybe make the cat slower?
Oh, no! Another dead mouse!
Let’s look at the code. What ‘s all this about x and y?
So Y is up and Y minus is down. X is like going to the side and that’s how we move the mouse around.
Shall we ask Laura for help?
Laura, can we make the cat go slower?
Yes this changes the speed, look.
OK maybe the cat can move less than 5. I think this will work. I don’t want this mouse to die!
Oh yes! It worked!
The mouse will live until tomorrow.
I ask Sanjay why he and the others volunteer with the club.
“I’ve been living here for over 17 years and I’m really specific to IT. When I came here to Ireland I was just married. All my kids were born here so when it comes to returning to society this is the way I thought I could give something back. My daughter is here tonight.”
Laura O’Donoghue, who has now taken over running the CoderDojo at our IT Centre from Sanjay, gives her reason for volunteering:
“When I heard Mary Farrelly was looking for mentors to start a club up in ITC I was eager to get involved. I think it’s a great approach for introducing kids to programming languages and encouraging them to use their creativity in new ways. You never know we could have the next Zuckerberg in our midst.”
The other CoderDojo mentors at our IT Centre are Nirav Raval, Andy Doyle, Dheepson Brightson, Emmet Rowe and, co-founder, Mary Farrelly.
Find out more
To find your nearest CoderDojo, check out the CoderDojo website or contact Alan Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org