Saturday 18 May 2013


I was in a dreary workshop earlier this week and my eyes drifted off the task and onto a whiteboard saying but one word  Coderdojo (yes, in red) and suddenly I was alert.  Because CoderDojo is the coolest, possibly the most important innovation to come out of Ireland this decade.  The brain-child of James Whelton when he was a schoolkid in Cork and midwifed into a global phenomenon by global phenomenon Bill Liao, CoderDojo is a forum to encourage young people to write computer code rather than coat-tail on the millions of person hours that other people have put into writing computer code for you.  I'm not saying that young fellers aren't "active" as they steer Lara Croft by the hips through a labyrinth filled with Uzi-toting heavies; their brains (and other parts) are engaged in the process with problem-solving, planning, and imagination necessary for many of the games they while away the hours at.  It's not the same as TV, which is utterly passive.  But the quality of the graphics and the complexity of plotting must make an aspirant coder feel like s/he's at the foot of Mount Unsurpassable.  CoderDojo is billed at the antidote to that sense of disempowerment.

CoderDojo the template, the concept, the dream has spread to more than 75 places in Ireland (not to mention Burundi, Slovenia and Sweden) and one of them is The Institute every Saturday morning.

With my background, at various times capable of coding in six different languages, if I failed to volunteer, I'd lose my own face.  So this morning, I made myself a CoderDojolunteer badge and turned up in terminal-suite A313.  As Scratch and Javascript are about as opaque to me as Sanskrit, I didn't think I'd be much help . . . and I wasn't.  But I was able to tell the kids that ctrl-C and ctrl-V beats footling about with a mouse and, that cut&paste&modify is quicker and more reliable than typing similar lines in again and again.  I know now that making a working analogue clock appear on the screen requires typing more than 100 lines of javascript.  That's pretty onerous, given that javascript knows that testobj is different from testObj, but a lad of 12 might not.  But I also know that several of the Codistas had the bottle to keep plugging away for two hours and catch their numerous typos to create something nifty that can be built on.  If you can create a black clock you can surely make a green one or a smaller one; but can you make one that runs backwards?  Or a 24 hour clock?  And if you can build a clock face, you've got the speedometer and the rev counter sorted for your own Grand Theft Auto.  But you've got to slog it out at the beginning.  If you can put the graft in with programming, you suddenly find that you can put the graft in on other difficult or time consuming tasks - learning french irregular verbs, or cleaning your room or telling the school bully that you're not having it any more.

More next week!

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