Code Club: Week 4

09 May 2013

Dear Code Club, we’re gonna need more stickers

I thought it might be useful to describe the routine of running a club.

For anybody reading this who’s thinking of volunteering, hopefully this will give you a sense of how relaxed and easy it is to run an after school club.

I get to De Beauvoir Primary at 3:30pm or just before, say hi to the folks at reception, grab my name badge and head in to find Rebecca Stacey. She’s club supervisor and the school’s deputy head (in that order of priority, of course) and can usually be found either in the main office or out in the playground marshalling the kids before their parents pick them up.

We head up to the ICT room on the forth floor of the school building, talking through the day’s club, the direction of Code Club in general, and other technology initiatives the school is planning. I’m continually amazed at how switched-on De Beauvoir is technologically. It certainly makes my job easier.

When we get to the ICT room, usually half the kids have beaten us there and the other half arrive over the next five minutes or so. They’ve normally grabbed a computer already, and we have to make sure they’re logged in to the correct workspace so their files save correctly.

To kick the club off, I’ll present the day’s project on the big whiteboard with the kids sat on the floor in front. I’ll explain the mechanics of the game, have a go at playing it myself then let a couple of the kids have a go. Everyone gets a laugh as they inevitably make my score look pathetic.

This is a nice moment to ask the kids how they’re feeling about the club. Is it too hard? Too easy? Are they happy working with Scratch? Is there anything else they’d be interested to try out?

Then it’s off to the computers. So far, I’ve been finding we’re about fifteen minutes in by this point. I’m beginning to think we need to get started on the work more promptly, but the slow starts have helped establish a rapport.

Everyone gets their own 8-page worksheet. This seems like an awful lot of paper but I’ve come to realise that there really is nothing better than having the worksheet. The kids can write on it and take it home. Those two benefits totally out-weigh the cost.

From there, for the first 20 minutes or so it’s a matter of following the instructions and everyone settles into the task. Every so often one of the boys will carry on playing Minecraft for a bit instead, but mostly they’re pretty diligent.

When the project reaches the point of placing control in the kids’ hands, they start to ask for help. I’m not going to lie, you get a lot of requests for help all at once, and it’s hard to know who to give your attention to. I’m no master at this, but I’d say two strategies have become clear:

  1. Do just enough to get them past the point they’re stuck on
  2. Take your time

The kids, believe it or not, are very patient. If I ask them to wait while I help someone else, they’re cool with that. Alternatively, I can ask them to join me so we can all solve the problem together. This has a 50/50 success rate. Sometimes they’ll show no real interest in helping the other person, but on other occassions they’ll take over and I can just sit back.

I’ve been trying to explain the different building blocks of Scratch whenever a suitable moment arises. The kids do listen, and seem to quietly comprehend what I’m trying to say, but a conceptual description is not all that useful unless it’s accompanied by a real, practical demonstration of that little block doing it’s job.

In Zed Shaw’s Learn Code The Hard Way series, he makes a point of having readers break their programs, to see what kind of errors appear. This is something I want to try and use more in Code Club — “If we remove the condition from this forever loop, what will happen?”. Often we don’t truly appreciate something’s function until we see it malfunction.

The club always ends way earlier than I’d like. An hour is not enough, but it’s all we’ve got. Having said that, I’m going to start going in on Wednesday lunchtimes to do a 30-minute supplementary session for any of the students that want to attend. I’m hoping it’ll be a good time to complete projects or take them further.

So that’s my Code Club routine. After the club, I go back to work with my brain fizzing.