Launching a CoderDojo

It was actually quite a nerve-wracking experience.

Right up until the minute we started, I wasn’t sure that we would have anyone attending at all. We’d sent out emails. We’d put up posters around campus. We’d talked it up with students. But there really was no way of knowing. It was Saturday afternoon. The morning was busy with the charity run/walk. I’d got some negative feedback from both students and teachers (about the time – too busy, already there in the morning, etc.). And …I just didn’t know.

So we waited. Leulseged and I were the ones running the afternoon session. We were both tired – he from running a staff training in the morning, me from daddy duty all morning at the walk/run & then at Nadia’s tennis tournament. We kicked around ideas and thoughts – dancing around the question of “what if nobody comes?” Then David came in. He’s eager and ready to be running things on his own (except that he’s too busy with his schoolwork) – I talked with him about our plans and gave him the option of leading or learning.

Then it started. …and it was delightful! First one student came in, then another, then another… High School students. Middle Schoolers. Elementary kids. It was a small turnout, but a great one. We asked the kids what they wanted to do and helped them get started. They dove in and had a great time.

I’ve written about the session on my school blog – what the students were up to, how excited they were, etc. For here, I’ll simply say that it was great having students from Elementary, Middle and High, all working on different things: Scratch, Python, Java. The kids were motivated and happy. I was delighted! It was a great start.

I’m really excited about CoderDojo at ICS. I love the open-source philosophy of the program: that each individual Dojo can use & adapt the rules, process, features, etc. There are other after-school coding programs that each have their own advantages (more structure & guidance, for one thing!), but something organic, open-source and markedly anti-commercial really appeals. I also think it’s terrific that it’s a program that was started by a high school student in Cork, Ireland.

The free-form nature of the project perfectly suited our startup. We had kids doing all kinds of things. (I’m probably most proud of David and Simon who came in wanting to learn Java. I told them that neither I nor Leulseged were Java experts – no problem. The guys found a Udacity MOOC and dove in. They were focused and motivated – listening to video lectures, helping each other out with bits of code. Awesome!) We might get more focused and structured in our offerings if we get more students in later sessions, but for now the free-form nature is great. “What do you want to do?” is how we greeted each student. I think that’s just perfect.

We’re also planning on opening up to the wider community. That will no doubt greatly expand participation (and more management work!). It’ll also be a good thing for our students and our school to be helping others in Addis. We’re already talking with the folks at AfriCoderDojo about us being the main site in Addis. It’s still in negotiations, but it’s looking very good!

So lots more planning, work and effort to come. For now, I’m equal parts relieved and very happy! Nothing like a successful launch to a big project to make me smile.



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