Networking with CodeClub

When I first got involved in CodeClub, I hadn’t expected to meet so many new people and become so involved in the “community.” Funny how things turn out…

We’ve managed to create quite an active group of CodeClub volunteers and wannabe volunteers in the Greater Manchester area thanks to the NW England Community Forum on the CodeClub website. It means we can stay in touch via email, share ideas and solve problems. It’s also a good resource for people who are keen to set up a CodeClub but need a bit more information/reassurance from people who’ve been there and done it (and literally got the t-shirt.)

Manchester Chamber of Commerce

We had our second meet-up on 8th May at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. Thanks to Steven Flower for organising this. It was really interesting to meet such a range of people keen to get involved in setting up CodeClubs and I hope the “veteran volunteers”  were helpful with their practical advice, personal experience and encouragement.

We chatted a bit about the HTML projects in Term 3 of CodeClub. One of the volunteers present had already piloted these and so had some useful advice to pass on. I’ll probably blog separately about this!

Alan Turing statue

Alan Turing statue, Sackville Gardens, Manchester
© Copyright Stephen Richards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

So why were we meeting at the Chamber of Commerce? Manchester has a thriving digital/creative sector. It’s the original tech city, according to MIDAS, Manchester’s inward investment agency.

“Ever since we invented the computer, we’ve been fiddling about with it, designing, programming, creating content and sharing ideas.” (MIDAS)

That’s fantastic! But the industry is finding it hard to recruit people with the right digital skills. Matthew Kershaw, the Chamber representative for the Digital Infrastructure Group, told us there simply weren’t enough computer programmers in the Manchester workforce these days. That not only makes it difficult to fill vacancies, it inflates salaries making local digital companies less competitive.

The digital sector is so worried, its leaders have approached the Chamber of Commerce to ask for something to be done urgently. And they’re willing to throw money at the problem.

Their original suggestion was to put a Raspberry Pi in every classroom. On the face of it, this sounds fantastic – very now and a great photo opportunity! But then they thought about it a bit more. Hmm, what were schools going to do with these Pis? The Chamber realised that in most cases, the Pis would just be gathering dust in a corner of the classroom. Sad but probably true.

So Matthew Kershaw wanted to ask CodeClub volunteers for our ideas! As enthusiasts already working in primary schools, could we suggest equipment that would help kickstart a knowledge of computing in the next generation? We threw around a few thoughts but eventually reached a very different conclusion. It’s nothing to do with equipment. Most schools have access to computers. The problem is, they don’t know what to do with them.

What primary schools lack are the skills and confidence to use the computers they have to teach children to code. If Manchester’s digital sector wants to do something about that, it needs to put people into schools, not raspberry pis.

This is something the Chamber had already started work on so we were on very fertile ground here. We discussed encouraging companies to allow their employees to take time off work to volunteer at CodeClubs. We talked about promoting CodeClub to their members. The Chamber already has many school governors amongst its membership so this could be a great resource to tap in to. Perhaps members would prefer to volunteer at the weekend? CodeClubs can now be set up in libraries and other community centres so that needs to be publicised.

So, everyone left with plenty to think about. We need to keep in contact with the Chamber to see what help we can offer. Perhaps a video of volunteers’ testimony would be a good way of promoting the idea to digital companies…..(that’s the subject of yet another blog post, I suspect.)

Silicon Goyt Valley

Marple Viaduct, Goyt Valley

Marple Viaduct
© Copyright Ian Roberts and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Just a week after the Chamber of Commerce meeting, I was at the local pub with the volunteers from our Mellor/Marple Bridge CodeClubs. Thanks to Steve Kay for organising this.

We currently have CodeClubs at at least two schools in our tiny area so we’re fast becoming a programming hub!

One of our main discussion points was what happens to our CodeClub children once they get to the local secondary school? Will there be anything there to develop the skills they’ve learnt in Year 6? We’re going to get in contact with the ICT head at the secondary school to find out more. For example, could they set up their own CodeClub?

Volunteers from our two local CodeClubs get together to chat about the Big Stuff.

Volunteers from two local CodeClubs get together to chat about the Big Stuff.

We also talked about a joint coding activity so we’re trying to encourage as many of our CodeClub members as possible to go to the next CoderDojo at Manchester’s MadLab. I produced some flyers about it to thrust into parents’ hands. No idea if any of them will turn up….

“Make a difference”

What I loved about both these meetings was that CodeClub volunteers don’t just talk about their own clubs, projects, problems etc (although we do do a lot of that!). They talk about the Big Picture beyond their immediate school. They see themselves as part of a mission, if you like, to give more and more young children the opportunity to learn these skills. They want to make a difference in the wider community and they have the ideas and commitment to do this.

So if you’re already a volunteer, I really do recommend getting together with other volunteers in your area and seeing what you can come up with. It’s great to have the support network around you when you come against problems or when you’ve hit a stumbling block.

There are rumours that CodeClub may be going global. So maybe for future meet-ups we’ll need to remember our passports!

© Copyright Byrev (Emilian Robert Vicol) on Pixabay and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Related Links

Raspberry Pi with a dollop of Lego

Pimp my Pi!

Lego

When it comes to making a case for your Raspberry Pi, Lego is really the only way to go. I didn’t have the heart to use my daughters’ shiny, girly pink Lego bricks for this, so we dug out my husband’s Lego from the cellar.

Vintage Lego

We worked out that some of this Lego is FIFTY YEARS OLD, inherited from an older cousin! Some of it’s a bit discoloured but on the whole it’s in great condition and felt somehow “right” for styling a Raspberry Pi.

This is what we came up with. The yellow fruit Polo thing is decorative but also structural.

Note the subtle modification to make it WiFi. Saves clogging up another USB port.

It got quite a few retweets on Twitter but there was some disappointing scepticism….

Centre for Computing History

So I started thinking about the combination of 50 year old Lego and brand new Raspberry Pi computing technology. What was happening in computing fifty years ago when this Lego was being forged in a Danish furnace?

An internet search brought me to the Centre for Computing History. It will be opening to the public in July 2013 in Cambridge but in the meantime its website is full of useful information such as a Computing History Timeline. Cool!

So let’s choose 1963…

I hope you’ll explore those links.

And it’s worth pointing out that you’d have needed far more Lego bricks to encase your computer back then….

Related Blog posts

 

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.