Starting an After School Coding Club

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Coding. English teacher. You might be wondering how in the world these two things remotely go together. Well, in my case, they go together after school in the form of our newly formed Commodore Coding Club. 

The world needs coders. There is a serious shortage of them, and the shortage will continue to grow. Kids need an opportunity to code. They need to be exposed to it, to understand it, and to be able to make a decision as to whether they are interested in it or not. In Mississippi, we have very little formal computer science education in the K-12 school system. We have STEM and ICT, but those generally don’t expose students to computer science.

We decided to begin a coding club. Way back in the day, I learned to code in Pascal. Yes, that dates me a bit. I dabbled in C++ a bit, did a little HTML, but that was about it for me. Recently, I have found myself interested in coding again. The reason for my interest is my daughter, who has decided she wants to be a coder for a career. She and I are learning together using code.org and codeacademy.com.  Simply showing the kids the opportunities that are out there is an eye opening experience for them. They see a way to have a better life as an adult. They already see a career option for them… in middle school. Wow.

Our current school has no formal coding class or computer science class. We decided to try and change that. We started our coding club. We had our first meeting last week, and our second meeting yesterday. The club runs after school every Wednesday, and is off to a great start. In fact, we are at our capacity right now due to the number of chromebooks we have.

We are using code.org to teach coding to our members. We encourage teamwork when they encounter a problem/lesson they are having difficulty with. The result, kids are going home and coding, outside of school, outside of the club. They are on fire.

I try to start each session with some vocabulary they need to be familiar with along with a video clip of some sort to help inspire them. After that, it’s coding, and they love it. After just two sessions, the kids are discussing things like how to use “if/then” blocks. This is a concept that was completely foreign to them before we began. If that is what we accomplish in two sessions, imagine what can be done over long haul.

I have decided to spend a chunk of my spring break trying to write a grant for new computers for our club. While our current chromebooks are managing ok, they are three years old and battery life is an issue. It’s not uncommon for most of the batteries to be dead after a day of classroom use, so I have to be extremely careful on club days.

In many schools, there is little to no budget for a coding class. If you find yourself in such a school, I would encourage you to start a club. Yes, it takes time for you. Yes, you will have to stay after school with them, and yes, you will enjoy yourself.

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