Coding in your Library

Anyone can learn to code!

That was one of the main messages that were broadcast during Computer Science Education Week December 2013. Code.org and several other organizations created hour-long activities to engage and support people of all ages in learning to code. At its heart, the goal of Computer Science Education Week is to create visibility around the value of coding education, and to encourage everyone to experience and experiment with coding and programming computers. At the time I thought it was a great learning opportunity, but couldn’t quite see how it would fit into my library.

While at PLA earlier this year, one of the presenters mentioned a program they host at their branch called CoderDojo. This international initiative provides support and a network of resources for anyone who wants to host a meet-up for youth, parents, and mentors and focus on to learn the concepts and practices of coding in a fun, sociable, supportive environment. At CoderDojo, youth can develop websites, apps, animations, programs, games, and more!

This summer I, along with colleague Elise Doney, piloted CoderDojo’s at our branches as an experiment. With little understanding of computer science, and no experience coding, we are now both running popular and successful programs at our branches. As a result, many adults in our community have been asking for stronger digital literacy programs, which we hope we will be able to support in 2015.

Each CoderDojo is shaped by the technical skills of the organizers and volunteers and the interests of the youth at that location. At my branch, I use many of the free tools available from Code.org and their partners to explore basic computer programming with youth 7 -17 years old to high school students. While I have volunteers from local colleges who are currently studying computer science to answer technical questions posed by the kids, I have mostly been able to support the students myself because the tools are designed so well.

CoderDojo is a great fit for libraries who are looking to dive into coding education. As a global movement, CoderDojo values free and equitable access to technology education, literacy, social learning, and community participation. For hosts, CoderDojo provides access to an active, supportive community and the use of a program model that has proven successful. Online meet-ups, resources, and a network of experienced mentors can help you launch and successfully manage your program.

Although we have just begun, here are a few lessons learned:

  1. Don’t be afraid to host a program even if you don’t know how to code. I was worried at the beginning that I wouldn’t have the knowledge or skills the students would need, but I’ve been learning along with them and having so much fun that when we don’t know the answer I just help them learn how to find it, just as if it was any other reference question.
  2. Start with Lightbot ‘ and Code.org’s Hour of Code . Make use of countless free online resources, including those from big hitters like MIT, Google, Mozilla, and Microsoft. And don’t forget to check out YALSA’s partner Connected Learning Research!
  3. Let the students work at their own pace on projects of interest to them . Let parents participate to learn alongside their children.
  4. Welcome volunteers with a wide variety of skills. Coach volunteers how to:
    • Help students find the answer on their own
    • Encourage peer-learning and peer-coaching
    • Walk through written code to explain what each step means
    • Ask genuine open-ended questions about the codes and programs students create
  5. Have fun! This fall, I added Robots to the CoderDojo and had even more fun. I taught the students how to “test”, gave them some objectives, and watched them learn.

I encourage you to try this in your own library. It has been a huge success for our community.

 

This post was co-written with my colleague Elise Doney. If you have any questions for either of us, I encourage you to leave a comment below.

About Jami Schwarzwalder

Currently a teen librarian with the Pierce County Library System in Tacoma, WA.She is passionate about technology, making, and learning. See what I'm up to at https://about.me/jamischwarzwalder
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