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Immersed in code: My brother was one of many attendees enjoying CoderDojo North East this weekend

When Jamie met Coderdojo: Introducing a different kind of family fun

by Jamie Hardesty

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been the greatest at coding and web development. Ok, that’s not entirely true. When it comes to coding and web development, your nan could probably give me a run for my money!

My little brother on the other hand, he’s a whizz at it. So, with me being eternally on the lookout for fun, big-brotherly activities - as opposed to the Orwellian dystopian kind of course - I was really lucky to stumble across Coderdojo on Twitter, a couple of weeks ago.

Coderdojo, what?

In its simplest, Coderdojo is somewhere parents (or big brothers) can take their tech-loving kids to pursue educational and fun computer activities in a cool and easygoing environment. Knowledgeable volunteers are on hand but attendees are encouraged to do what they want. Kids are empowered and, as we found out, it all makes for a relaxed atmosphere that proves to be pretty fun to say the least!

Or, to directly quote its website, CoderDojo is a global movement of free, volunteer-led, community based programming clubs for young people. At a Dojo, young people, between 7 and 17, learn how to code, develop websites, apps, programs, games and explore technology in an informal and creative environment.

Our first Coderdojo experience: Coderdojo North East

Jack (my 13 year old brother) and I attended our first dojo last saturday, 28 November. Now when I was a kid, after school clubs, and winter-based activities especially, were pretty run of the mill and uninspired. I’m talking football practices in the cold and the clichéd dad on the sidelines mistaking under 9s football for the FA Cup final. Yep, that kind of thing.

What we experienced on saturday morning was nothing short of excellent.

“I couldn’t recommend it more. If you’re looking for a fun, indoor saturday morning activity to do with the kids - look no further.”

It didn’t take Jack any convincing to attend. He loves IT at school, has a collection of Apple products to rival Steve Jobs in his heyday and he’s been itching to go to Campus North again, having attended an innovation showcase there with me earlier this year.

Running slightly late on saturday AM, we dashed to be on time for the session beginning 10.00 - 12.00. In the mad morning rush we’d forgotten two things. Two essential things actually - the tickets I’d printed out and Jack’s Mac. Great start. Yet, this didn’t prove to be a problem at all. We were welcomed and invited to take a seat. Ricky, the guy who was running things, lent us his laptop and came over after welcoming the attending room.

The room was packed full of kids and parents, armed with laptops and ready to crack on. Ricky asked Jack what had been doing recently and what he fancied looking at. Jack, for all his tech wizardry, seemed a little unsure as to what he fancied doing - yes, preparation isn’t the peak of our brotherly powers, it has to be said - so Ricky supplied us with a USB containing various worksheets to have a go at.

Jack is familiar with a few coding languages so we began playing around with Scratch, which I believe is one of the most basic programs, for about half an hour. After that, we delved into Python, a little more challenging, for the next hour. Jack cracked on, following the instructions, and occasionally asking my opinion - perhaps to make me more involved, who knows!

Jack and I (left, bottom), taken from @CoderDojoNE

Sipping our complimentary drinks, Jack had a coke and I had a coffee - caffeine being something which we do have in common apparently - Ricky came back over to check in on us, just as other volunteers had been working around the room. Speaking directly to Jack, the pair of them enthused about the benefits on Python and how much more you can get out of it. This was probably my favourite part of the morning - this guy, who was obviously an expert on code, held such an earnest and engaged discussion with my little bro… the passion was pretty inspiring to see.

We finished the morning with another quick play around on Scratch and were already talking about how we were looking forward to coming next week.

The atmosphere was friendly, the room was buzzing and the morning gave us something different to do. Whilst I enjoy my weekend lie-ins, I came away feeling pretty fulfilled after doing something productive, which my brother clearly loved.

I couldn’t recommend it more. If you’re looking for a fun, indoor saturday morning activity to do with the kids - look no further.

What next?

Jack is now looking forward to next saturday’s session, 10.30 - 12.30 at the Baltic, where he’s going to bring some worksheets that school have recommended. We’re going to look at finishing a mini December project.

As for me, I’m going to be the adult and this time remember everything we need and hey, maybe I’ll even learn something myself. Afterall, I can’t have my nan being the second-closest thing to a coding sensei in the family.

You can follow the dojo on Twitter @CoderDojo and its North East branch @CoderDojoNE.