What is it?
Coding is writing instructions to tell a computer what you want it to do using step-by-step commands in one of a huge number of computer languages. Every website, smartphone app, computer programme, calculator and even microwave relies on code in order to operate.
This BBC Bitesize clip gives you a simple explanation of coding, aimed at the very young: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zykx6sg
Although it can seem quite daunting and difficult to understand at first, coding is actually a fun, creative activity which Nesta estimates many young people are interested in doing:
- 52% have already created their own software and 15% would like to do more of this
- 53% have created their own games and 33% would like to do more
- 46% have created their own apps and 26% would like to do more
There are lots of simple coding languages that young people can use to get started, such as Scratch, which is a simple ‘drag and drop’ programming language that uses tiles that you can organise in different orders to create animations, music, games or even control robots and other devices.
How can I make coding part of my library offer?
You may wish to start with a one-off coding event, known as a ‘hack day’ to gauge interest in coding activities in your library, such as joining in with the annual Festival of Code, organised by Young Rewired State, National Coding Week, EU Code Week or the Hour Of Code.
You may wish to start regular coding activities in your library. These are clubs that generally run for one hour once a week, once a fortnight or once a month after school or on the weekend. They are usually free to access and are generally open to young people aged 7-14 (although many core materials are aimed at 9-11 year olds).
There are a number of established coding clubs already available for public libraries to join. The benefit of joining an existing coding club is that they provide a step-by-step process for you to start your activities, including support in finding volunteers, activity plans for each session, marketing support and checklists for venues to use. The coding organisations with the widest networks are currently:
- Code Club – who have produced a checklist especially for libraries and has more general information for venues wishing to host a Code Club here
- Coder Dojo – who have a step by step guide you can follow to starting a Coder Dojo and also have dedicated support team to guide and support you as you start a Dojo
It is also worth thinking about how to develop your coding activities in keeping with the existing strengths of your library offer, e.g. existing intergenerational or peer learning activities you already host.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
- A space suitable for a workshop or group learning session
- A volunteer to run your coding activity – see more information
in the next section
- Wifi – you can download Scratch onto a memory stick and
upload onto everyone’s computers if you don’t have it yet
WHO YOU’LL NEED
Code Club and Coder Dojo sessions are usually run by volunteers from the local community. They may be IT professionals, university students or teachers or they may be amateur enthusiasts. They are likely to be motivated by a desire to help others develop a love of digital making but they have to be willing to:
- Commit to 1 hour per week leading the coding club for a programme of at least 10 weeks, with additional preparation time to familiarise themselves with the materials
- Arrange a DBS check for themselves (unless you are able to do this) or sign up as a Stemnet ambassador in which case Stemnet will organise the DBS check
- Be confident with computers, but not necessarily a coding whizz, they can pick this up as they prepare the sessions
- Have the ability to communicate with and engage groups of young people
- Be able to liaise with library staff to ensure the club runs smoothly
Code Club allows you to search for local registered volunteers via its website. You could also use existing networks to advertise for volunteers, such as the local volunteer bureau, your library newsletter or local schools and education institutions and local businesses.
There are lots of simple coding session plans and activities available online to help you get your young coders started:
- Scouts have recently released a ‘Digital Maker’ badge, and the starter activities for this badge can be found here
- Code Club have some taster activities you can download before registering here
- Coder Dojo has a wiki with user generated tutorials here
- Mozilla provide the resources and tools for their model of ‘Hive Learning Networks’ – where individual volunteers work with organisations like libraries, museums and schools, to teach young people digital literacy skills outside of the classroom
- Microsoft UK have developed an online starter kit for any parent, educator or volunteer wanting to start their own coding club – available at https://msdn.microsoft.com/imagine/imagine-about
Croydon Libraries Code Club
We started with 1 child and quickly grew to about a dozen. Most of our sign ups have come through the Code Club web site, but we also get new children through word of mouth and visitors to [local networking for tech entrepreneurs] Tech City meetings. We now have over 50 children registered with the club, although they don’t all attend every week, some are regulars and others just drop in when they are free.
“We have 8 desktop computers allocated in the library and access to the wifi network. We usually have three laptops between us volunteers and many of the children bring their own.
“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. 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 club has brought a lot of children to the library at an otherwise quiet period of the day. But crucially, from the point of view of the
staff I have spoken to, we have brought in a lot of boys that are normally under-represented in the library.
“In the first instance, the Code Club website is a good resource for finding a local volunteer. I’d definitely recommend Saturday as the
day to run the club as many more IT professionals will be free on
“I think my favourite moments at the club are when the children show
a genuine interest in gaining a deeper understanding of maths or geometry. One child begged me to tell them how many degrees it takes to go all the way around. Another worked out how many doublings it would take to get to 2048.