Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Kids Who Code: Starting a Coding Club - What Next?

This fall, I started a Grades 2-5 coding club at our school (which you can read about here).  I'm sharing our experiences in hopes of helping others wanting to start a coding club and also to document this aspect of the Kids Who Code project.

In our first coding club meetings, students worked in multi-age teams to complete Scratch Jr. challenges using activities from their website.  After the first couple of meetings, students were able to work fairly independently in Scratch Jr, so I started working with small groups to introduce other coding tools.  Since I didn’t want to take whole teams away from their Scratch Jr. challenges, I chose a grade to work with each week while the other students continued with Scratch Jr.  I picked different tools to introduce to each grade so that, as a collective club, we had experience with a variety of tools.  For example, I introduced Lightbot to our Grade 5 members and set up Kodable accounts for the Grade 2s.  This system of “small group instruction” works well, since teaching 50 kids at a time seems a bit overwhelming to me.   

There were a few little “housekeeping” tasks that came up for us as a new coding club.  If you're thinking of starting a club, they are things to consider when you're planning!

Clean up – On the first day, I didn’t even think about the fact that there isn’t a garbage can in the gym, so we had to make a habit of bringing one in from my classroom.  I also realized that we needed to sweep the gym floor after our meetings since we were eating our lunches in there, so I asked for student volunteers and was very pleased to have more than enough students offer to help.  (I actually turn down students every week because so many of them volunteer to help – what a great bunch of kids I work with!).  So basically, whichever 3-4 kids volunteer first stay for a few minutes after our meeting and I give them the brooms to clean up – easy!   

Attendance – I felt it was important to have a record of which students were meeting with me each week, so I made a simple “class list” of club members.  Older students volunteer to check off all members in attendance or I carry my clipboard with me as I circulate during meetings and mark down attendance as I work with students.   

Membership – I’m still working on this one.  Over 60 students signed up to try coding club.  Most of them attended our first few meetings to see what it was like.  Now that we have been running for several weeks, a few students have decided not to attend.  I’ve been doing lots of thinking about this… is it okay to “let” them quit?  Should their parents sign off on it since their parents signed the form for them to participate?  Is it important that students commit to attending every meeting or is it okay for them to choose their usual lunchtime routine and outdoor play after an initial trial period?  I’m leaning towards the latter – for several reasons.  Coding club is an extracurricular activity.  Sure, we are learning a lot, but it’s meant to be fun.  I don’t want to force kids to attend.  I also think that it was great for students to sign up and “give it a try”.  When I sign up for a new exercise class or activity, I expect to have a choice about whether or not I continue with it – and I think our students deserve that same choice.  That said, I may still create a simple note to go home so that parents are aware that their child is no longer attending.   In future years, I would discuss this aspect with students and come to an agreement about membership in our club.  

On the whole, our coding club start-up has run very smoothly and I really enjoy working with the students each week.  It's nice to reconnect with my former students and get to know some students I didn't teach.  If you're thinking of starting a coding club, I'd certainly encourage you to give it a try!


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