Kirstin of the Home Educators Coding Club, which runs in Norfolk Library, left a comment on my previous post asking some questions about the details of running our library programming club. I feel these are questions of general interest to those running or planning to run their own club. So I decided to write up my answers in a new post.
What programming languages do you use with the children?
We start with Scratch. Scratch is a wonderful first language because it neatly avoids many of the stumbling blocks that new programmers are likely to face. It is also very suited to teaching within the library computing environment because it runs in the browser, without requiring additional installation, and it manages the children’s project files.
The final official language we cover is Python. This is the hardest of the languages to get running on the library computers. We have tried several alternatives, but we have currently settled on using Trinket as a programming environment. Like, Scratch, the programming environment for this runs in the browser.
Additional languages we have tried at the club are Ruby, Kodu, C# within Unity, and variety of the languages available at Codecademy. Mostly we let the children explore for themselves wherever possible.
How do the sessions work on a practical level if they are drop in?
We allow the children to manage their own accounts and work at their own pace. Since most of our project file management is handled by external sites, we don’t have to worry so much about where each child has got to. We can focus on technical issues and leave the children to struggle with programming themselves.
We have a number of printed and online work books that the children can use to teach themselves the basics. Once they have gained sufficient experience, we let them choose whether they want to continue creating and exploring in that language or move onto the next.
Do the children all work on the same type of projects at the same time or is it interest led?
Most of the children will work through the same material in approximately the same order. But as they start at different times, and not every child will attend ever week, it tends to be rare that everyone is working on the same thing at the same time. The only regular exception to that is when there is an event of some kind, such as Scratch Day.
Do they work as a group at any point or always individually?
Some of the children like to work in groups, but most prefer to be controlling the machines themselves. We also have some younger children who typically work with their parents. The parent are generally a lot more hands-off anyway and are happy to let their children drive.
You make a good point about coding bringing boys into the library – I’m going to use that one!
Although the library are happy with us attracting more boys to our club, the issue of diversity in our club is a constant worry to me. My suspicion is that parents of boys are more likely to seek us out than parents of girls. Where we do get girls in the club, they are frequently the sisters of boys that have joined. I’m hoping that by advertising within the library we’ll attract more girls in the future.
Any other questions
Many thanks to Kirstin for the great questions.
If you are running your own club, or interested in starting one, and want to visit us, we run every Saturday morning from 9.30 to 10.30 in Croydon Central Library. Feel free to pop in and see us in action. And if you have any questions, leave a comment below.