A number people from both established Code Clubs, and those interested in starting one, have asked me about strategies to engage active support from parents and IT teachers. Recently we had a chance to sit down and look back over some of our experiences running Code Club, and came up with some ideas about some things that worked for us.
Comparing before and after
At some point during the year, we usually ask our students to name some of the things they love about Code Club. Then we have them compare these with their expectations at the start of the year. It's a good way to get some feedback on what worked for them, and also see how Code Club is perceived by the students.
From the perspective of teachers and volunteers, we also track progress of students as they progress, so we know when they've had wins, and try to be there when they might be struggling with push through various challenges. Although everyone's busy, we also try to collaborate and talk about our impressions of each week and where we can improve and what we should keep going with. It helps to also get a broader perspective on each session and over time. Most times, if I see someone exclaim, "Awesome!" when they achieve something or get a project completed, I quietly think to myself, "that's another person for whom it's been worthwhile!". Another benefit of tracking progress is realised in successive years, when skill levels between experienced and new students start to increase: It allows us to look at what an individual student has done, so that we have an idea of their skill level, and can suggest an appropriate activity that will challenge them enough to learn, but not so much that they get discouraged.
Lighting a fire under as many students as possible
When I say "lighting a fire", I mean figuring out what gets kids excited about Making/Coding and really helping them work to make progress and reach milestones and larger goals. Everyone seems to get excited about different aspects or areas, so it's really a case of helping the students to persevere until they find what they like about it, and get a chance to understand enough about coding and creating, to get what they want out of it. e.g. during out Devs and Testers activity, we saw people fall into different roles as things progressed. Personally, I remember being the kid who just didn't get a few things at first...and so we encourage all questions as we continue helping everyone to get better at figuring things out, and they become more confident. Sometimes it can take a while to figure out what people are into; and it's such a great moment when we see the light come on after someone's just realised that there's something that resonates with them, in what we're doing. Of course not everyone gets to that point, or wants to hang in there to find out...if that's the case, or it's just not the right time for someone, we'll also try to find out, as there's always seems to be a fairly constant waiting list of others who want to get into our Code Club.
Getting support from parents and teachers
This sounds great, but how do I get enough people to help in the first place? The start is probably the hardest part. People don't really always understand the benefits of kids learning to code or playing with robots. Sometimes kids just aren't interested until they see a sibling or friend create cool things. And then their initial perceptions may have been incorrect, so realising that coding allows them to do much more than they or their parents anticipated can be a little frustrating if they didn't previously apply. However, as we run Code Club for a large range of ages, there's always next year if they don't get in at a lower age.
Other ways we help others in the school to see into Code Club, is by doing presentations in assembly, where parents, teachers, and other students can see what our Code Club kids have created.
Some of the events that have received great responses from teachers and parents include:
- having students showcase their game entries after encouraging them to enter a competition and winning prizes
- taking students to speak at various external presentations, where they receive recognition for their achievements
- inviting other teachers to visit Code Club while it is running, and having kids explain the activities such as Scratch and Python projects, both on the screen and integrating with the real world with robots
- having students choose Code Club activities as a way of communicating their knowledge in another academic subject, that is unrelated to programming
- encouraging parents to turn up early to see their kids' projects some weeks
- talking to parents when they ask questions about coding and Code Club activities, especially around the time of large events such as Moonhack.
- preparing demonstrations and displays for school open days, or talking to prospective students, and finding out what they may have previously experienced
- having students present their games to others in Code Club
By exposing others to projects that kids have worked on, often we've found that incorrect expectations are replaced with an eagerness to embrace what a number of groups are doing to provide maker/coding/entrepreneurial skills and opportunities. And quite often, parents and friends will ask questions about Code Club, and once they understand what is involved, just end up volunteering right there. Interestingly, during one of our meetups, a fellow volunteer even told us about a Code Club that was comprised on of senior citizens!