After making a few changes to the running of our code club this year, it's nice to get a chance to sit back and reflect on how it all went. In previous posts, I've tried to brain-dump as we progressed - with some of my immediate thoughts and reactions to each month, or two..depending on how much was going on. We had varying levels of success with some of the changes, so I thought it useful to go over some of the year's highlights as we see out 2017.
Changing how we identify those kids that need more
In past years, we found that quieter kids who achieved more, were sometimes being overlooked. Others who didn't put up their hands as much when they had trouble become more frustrated and inevitably progressed less. Since we tracked everyone's progress with an app this year, we were able to progress those that had done more promoting a good mixure of quiet achievers and louder kids going through to Python. Over the years we have run code club, I've found that it really helps to take an interest in what everyone is doing, and regularly check in to see what various students are going. Although, we really need to apply this consistently with all our volunteers - because once you have enough volunteers, waiting for hands to go up seems a less efficient way of keeping communication channels open with students.
The feedback we received from parents was that we reduced distractions this year, by setting expectations up front. It's probably useful to take into account that we also seem to grow our numbers each year; and since code club is free for kids to attend, there's potential for some parents to abuse that as an alternative to after-school care. Having said that, in some cases I'm sure there's kids, in that situation, for whom code club becomes beneficial, and they later carry on to develop their skills further.
By explaining that each code club project should take under an hour to complete, we had a quicker turnaround on projects: as a result, kids were less likely to become bored because they were able to feed their curiosity - and progress further in both skills and breadth of experience. In some cases, kids express trepidation in continuting if they felt they had fallen behind slightly, so I made it clear that not everyone has to be synced up on every activity, and that we eventually arrive together. Realistically, everyone seemed to get sick at some point this year, anyway.
Simplifying custom projects like robots and raspberry pi
This year we:
- changed from Raspberry Pi/Lego Mindstorms robots, to the BBC micro:bit and its robot accessories;
- used the Raspberry Pi in conjunction with Code Club activities, to give a smoother transition from Scratch, with less steps/intersections; and
- stream-lined the introduction of concepts by selecting suitable activities, with careful consideration to delivering these in logical progression.
Changing session structure
We worked hard to change attitudes toward logins, makinge students and parents more accountable for access to required online services like Scratch and Trinket; this encouraged kids to code more at home, which increased visibility of activities for parents. In order to ease management of groups, we split grades 3/4 and 5/6 into separate semesters. In hindsight, this allowed us to manage kids as a collective group with increased frequency, and therefore, efficiency.
Overall, we attempted to keep the main focus on increasing coding skills, while I kept enough advanced activities up my sleeve so no one was left idle or unchallenged for long. In Python projects, we talked about our long and short term objects based on the skills gained from completing each project. This empowered students to customise their own learning, to some extent, while having a wholistic view of their own journey into coding. With groups working on similar activities seated in close proximity to one another, an atmosphere of dilligence and excitement appeared. We really had much better focus in the Python groups and really got to 'dig in' to some interesting solutions and code refactoring. We learned about "don't repeat yourself" (DRY) in Python, thanks in part to a nice segway from the more advnaced Scratch projects covered.
Another valuable initiative had teachers from the greater school involved on a weekly basis to give them a better understanding of how things ran, and feed into their curriculum teaching, and get their thoughts on coding, and how we implemented the activities.
Other than Python, we had groups work on projects with our Makey Makeys (woohoo for whack-a-mole and other projects!) - this allowed students to use Scratch to explore human input, instead of just the keyboard and mouse.
We also managed to get involved in our usual compliment of events, which included:
- Student demos at the Future Schools exhibition, in python (micro:bit), and scratch (various levels)
- Moonhack expanded from getting over 10,000 kids coding last year, to an internation spread this year. As a code club, we were better prepared ahead of time, and allocated time during code club where kids could write their contributions.
- We integrated our end-of-year get together into last code club session and invited parents
- Code club student projects were integrated into the Student and Parents’ night
- Assembly and newsletter updates continued to be delivered to the greater school community
- Python kids created a project that improved care of a plant by using the BBC micro:bit to measure soil moisture levels. The project was displayed proudly at the front of the school, for visitors and parents to see
- We had more code-related books in the library this year
- Code club students worked on and delivered presentations, incorporating pratical demonstrations, to Chinese students from sister school
Although there is still more work to be done, the net improvement was positive and overall we reached new levels of achievement in our Python skills. For more details on what we did, you can read some of my previous posts.