Tag Archives: Scratch

My seven year old daughter’s first ever CoderDojo – at Manchester’s MadLab

“I just want to make a horse riding game!”

Just being in Manchester’s Northern Quarter is exciting. It’s very different from our little village!

That was Isobel’s plan for her first CoderDojo on 7th April 2013. I just wanted her to enjoy it and didn’t expect her to learn much on her first visit. I thought she’d just be testing the waters, having a look around, seeing if there were other girls her age there (very important when you’re seven).

So we decided to make a day of it. The CoderDojo is at the MadLab, right in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter so just wandering around was a bit of an adventure.

Making Scratch Friends

It was busy and chaotic at the beginning in the best way possible. Isobel hooked up with a couple of other girls her age who are old hands at CoderDojo. They joined a Scratch group  aimed at the younger children. It was led by the fabulous, inspiring, endlessly patient DJ Adams who came up with an idea to write a program that would take the monotony out of Times Tables. They all thought this was a much-needed tool!

Need to fuel up before CoderDojo. Home Sweet Home almost opposite MadLab is my perfect choice.

The perfect preparation for a first CoderDojo. Home Sweet Home cafe is almost opposite MadLab (it’s the one with the green shutters) and the milkshakes are delicious!

With a mix of gentle questioning, allowing the older children to use their knowledge and experience, he took the group through the process step by step. Isobel’s new friends helped her out a couple of times which made it all the more sociable. It was just lovely to see such young children completely engrossed in a problem-solving task together.

New Challenges

Wouldn’t it be great if they could do stuff like this in ICT classes in school? I’d love to see teachers being able to pick up something from elsewhere in the curriculum (times tables is a good example) and then exploring it in a computer class.

Even better, after DJ had finished, the girls started chatting about how they could make the times tables program even better! Could they get the monkey to move its mouth? Could he explode at the end?! DJ set Isobel a challenge – could she get the monkey to put its arms out when the answer was even and down when the answer was odd. That got her thinking….

The Banana Piano

So much interesting stuff going on all over the CoderDojo! Isobel’s new friends dragged her over to see Steven Flower – the organiser of under-18 events at MadLab – make a piano out of bananas.


Yeeaaah, the banana piano is good, but Isobel just wanted to get back to her program so she could work on getting the monkey to react to odd and even numbers. She’s still not sure how to do it but knows she has to make another “costume” for the monkey sprite so gets to work on that.

Scratch monkey

Eureka!

Another wonderfully generous, patient mentor talks Isobel through the modulo operator. Suddenly, she sees a way of solving the challenge. It’s exciting for both of us – but it’s time to leave.


Dinner vs debugging

Some things are more important than dinner….

She wants to work on it on the train home. I draw the line!

But as soon as we get home…..

Nothing was more important to Isobel than fixing that program! She still needed guidance to get it to work and it took a lot of trial and error. But she got there in the end.

TimesTables in Scratch

We did NOT make a horse riding game!

For me, that was the biggest achievement. I saw a different side to my daughter. Who’d have thought she could be so passionate about something which doesn’t involve writing a story (about ponies, usually)?

I met lots of familiar faces at CoderDojo, met new people whom I hope to see again and I came away with lots of new ideas for our CodeClub. Sadly, we won’t be able to go to the next CoderDojo because it clashes with the Mellor March – the big annual charity event in our village. But we will be back!

And finally, I’d like to say thank you to all the wonderful mentors who make CoderDojo such a fantastic experience for children and their parents. I’m very grateful.

So what do I do with my Raspberry Pi Computer? Go to a RaspberryJam at Manchester’s MadLab 08.09.12.

flickr-225231412-hd

Photo by Muffet on Flickr – Creative Commons

This really tested my commitment to turning myself into a techy.

RaspberryJams are events taking place monthly all over the country (even globally) as a way of supporting and encouraging people to get the most out of their Raspberry Pis – those little credit-card sized computers which cost about £25.   I’ve had one for a few months now and it was still sat in its snug, foam box doing nothing because I just didn’t have the confidence to start tinkering.

So, I decided the only way I was going to start playing with it was to go along to a jam.

This was about as far out of my comfort zone as it was possible to get whilst still being in a breathable atmosphere.  The attendee list showed that I was the ONLY female signed up and I knew I was going to be the class dunce.

To drum up the courage to walk through the door of MadLab, I went across the road to the LOVELY Home Sweet Home cafe for an espresso.  The window seat on a sunny Saturday morning is a fantastic place to people watch as the Northern Quarter wakes up to the weekend.  I also like a cafe that tweets back!

So, were all my fears about RaspberryJam justified?

On the whole, absolutely not.  I was really impressed by how generous people were with their time and equipment to help me get started.  Even the keyboard I’d brought with me decided not to work properly (wouldn’t do S or T at all, pretty good at J.) so I had to borrow one of them, plus various cables.  I am extremely grateful to all of you, especially Dave who copied the operating system onto my SD card!

And as it turned out, I was NOT the only woman!  Hello, Dawn!

It was great to see lots of dad there with their 10, 11 yr old sons.  But where were the daughters?

I really liked the way the event was set up as a sharing experience.  Everyone was asked at the beginning what they wanted to get out of it and what they were able to put in (nothing, in my case).

So, what did I get out of the McrRaspJam?

  1. I finally found the motivation to take the Pi out of its box.  An important first step.
  2. Got the OS copied onto the SD card.  Thanks, Dave!
  3.  Got my Pi connected to a screen, mouse and keyboard and saw it spring to life.
  4. I borrowed an SD card with OPENelec’s XBoxMediaCentre so I got my Pi to play TV programmes from iPlayer onto a screen – which is something I definitely want to have a go at myself at home.   I want to be able to do it myself because I think that would give me a great sense of achievement but I’m worried I’ll get frustrated and just find somebody else to do it for me!  But the Jam has made me feel I could give it a go,  I know where to find the information and I could probably go to the next Jam and get some help if it all goes wrong (sorry to bug you, guys!!)
  5.  I started to make a shopping list of equipment I need.  This will end up costing more than the Pi
  6.  I met Simon Walters (@cymplecy).  He’s an ICT technician and network manager in primary schools but he also teaches children REAL computing.  He had a small gang of 11 yr old boys utterly absorbed in using Scratch to programme a tiny set of traffic lights.  Even better, he takes the time to blog about the stuff he’s doing with his RPis.

I have to admit, I left after a couple of hours because I felt I couldn’t absorb any more and I wanted to go away and digest what I’d learnt.  I may go back to the next one – if they’ll have me!  (I was definitely a taker rather than a giver)

But I’m pleased I didn’t stay in my window seat at Home Sweet Home.  That would have been too easy.