New space to crack the code

17th August 2012 at 01:00
Glasgow's `CoderDojo' is helping to rewrite the script for computing science. Elizabeth Buie reports

When Stephen Breslin arrived as head of the Glasgow Science Centre earlier this year, he held an "Ask our new CEO" session on the centre's Facebook and Twitter sites.

Many called for computing science to be represented in the centre, so he contacted Australian entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Liao, co-founder of CoderDojo, a coding club movement for young people.

Last month, the first CoderDojo session was held - the first in Scotland - led by volunteer Craig Steele, a 24-year-old qualifications officer at the Scottish Qualifications Authority, who works on science, technology, engineering and maths qualifications.

Mr Steele had wanted to set up his own CoderDojo but didn't have a venue; Glasgow Science Centre was looking for volunteers and mentors. It was the perfect match.

While studying at the University of Glasgow, he took a "computing science in the classroom" option, during which he taught advanced concepts to 12- year-olds. That led to postgraduate research on new materials to teach computing in school.

Youngsters attending CoderDojos ("dojo" is a Japanese word for a meeting place for martial arts training) learn how to code and develop websites, apps, programs and games. Dojos also organise tours of technology firms, and bring in guest speakers and organise events.

The Glasgow Dojo is likely to be limited to 20 participants initially and have starter sessions accessible to novices.

"Whether or not you are going to work in the technology area, you will be affected by technological changes," says Mr Steele. "Everyone needs to know more about how computing works - and know it is not just happening by magic."

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An after-school club that kept on growing

CoderDojo is a not-for-profit organisation founded by James Whelton and Bill Liao.

It was started in James Whelton's school in early 2011, when he received some publicity after hacking the iPod Nano and some younger students expressed an interest in learning how to code.

He set up a computer club in his school (PBC Cork), where he started teaching basic HTML and CSS for styling. Later that year he met Bill Liao, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, who was interested in growing the project into something bigger than an after-school computer club.

In June 2011, the first CoderDojo was launched in the National Software Centre in Cork. The Cork Dojo saw people travelling from Dublin frequently to attend sessions. A Dublin Dojo was launched soon after, in Google's Montevetro building. Its success, in turn, has led to the setting up of more Dojos around Ireland and subsequently around the world.

For a full list, go to http:zen.coderdojo.comdojo.

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