ON Friday next, May 13th the group – which still includes some of those initial members – celebrates the big birthday with a special Expo in the town’s Quality Hotel between 6.30pm and 8.30pm.
‘We started off the CoderDojo in May 2012 with about 20 children, and we now have a core group of more than 50 who come regularly,’ says Margaret Deegan, organizer and founder member.
The expo, she said, is very much about a celebration of the work of the young members, who range in age from seven to 18.
West Cork-based entrepreneur Bill Liao, co-founder of the global CoderDojo movement which was set up in 2011, will be on hand to admire the impressive projects on display at the event and chat with the young inventors, many of whom worked with the programming tool Scratch to make the computer games and animations which will be on show on the night.
Visitors to the showcase can view a range of computer games created by the children over the past year, along with websites about everything from fashion to nature. There’s 3D modelling too – the CoderDojo kids have designed characters from Minecraft and will also be displaying sophisticated 3D games developed using the Unity platform.
‘One of the children has developed a smart car which is actually a mini computer,’ says Margaret, who explains that the sophisticated little vehicle, designed by primary school pupil James Robey, is programmed to work on an Arduino circuit board, and not only recognises when it is approaching an obstacle, but beeps, flashes its lights and changes direction to avoid it.
Once the birthday celebrations are behind them, a major objective for the group over the next four years is to steadily increase the number of female members participating in the Friday evening sessions.
Currently, girls only make up a disappointing 20% of the overall membership of Clonakilty Coder Dojo.
‘Over the next four years, we really would like to see a more even split between male and female members attending the Dojo,’ says Margaret, who feels that one of the main obstacles to girls’ participation is a mind-set about coding, what it involves, and who it is mainly aimed at – despite the fact that many girls are extremely good at it:
‘Part of the reason for this is we believe the girls think that coding is a boys’ pursuit. The unfortunate thing is that girls don’t always realise the relevance of coding to things they are interested in – and this is a great pity, because they’re often as good at coding if not better than the boys!
‘They also bring a very creative side to it,’ she says, adding that the female members of Clonakilty Coder Dojo currently range in age from seven to 18.
In a bid to attract – and keep girls – CoderDojo representatives have not just been visiting the schools, highlighting the benefits with a particular emphasis on convincing girls to give it a try, but have also introduced a special Girls’ Zone to the regular weekly Clonakilty Dojo sessions.
‘We have visited local schools to encourage more girls to join up but we find that they come for a while and drop off again – however I think the Girls’ Zone is helping to retain a core group of about a dozen girls who come regularly.’
The idea of a special girls-only section was the brainchild of one of the Dojo mentors, Wendy Cullinane, explains Margaret, who adds that organisers had noticed that some female members experienced shyness on entering the Dojo and finding so many boys at work.
‘However, when the girls get together there’s a nice buzz going on,’ she explains, adding that female members thoroughly enjoy getting involved in designing games.
They are also very interested in telling stories via websites and animation, she explains, and she notices that ‘girls tend to focus on interesting issues that are current around a particular time, for example the 1916 Rising.’
However, whether you’re a girl or a boy, it’s worth attending the Dojo – the skills children learn there are both very varied and extremely useful - during the sessions and in life outside the Dojo.
‘We find that regular attendance makes the children very confident of, and articulate about technology they are using. It promotes self confidence in terms of being able to share information and addressing a large group,’ says Margaret, who also says the work done by Dojo members helps develop problem-solving skills, promotes teamwork – and, importantly, makes them proud of their achievements.
‘All of these are very important,” says Margaret, who adds that the work done at the CoderDojo has proved to be very beneficial for anyone on the autism spectrum.
‘It focuses on skills that these children often have in abundance, giving them the opportunity to excel in an environment which is very supportive,’ she explains.
The only question is – why wouldn’t a child go?
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