Code Club have thousands of amazing clubs running around the UK. The majority of these take place in schools, run by our volunteers with the help of teachers. However, there are now growing numbers of Code Clubs being set up in public venues such as libraries, which serve as excellent locations because they are open on weekends (for extra busy volunteers who can’t fit Code Club in during the week), and they are open to a wide range of children from across the community.
We wanted to profile one of our library-based clubs to show just how easy and versatile these venues can be for running a Code Club, so we spoke to Paul Sinnett, who runs a Code Club in his local library in Croydon alongside fellow volunteers Saleha Salahudin and Marc Grossman.
Paul told us a bit more about his experience with Code Club:
Why did you decide to set up a Code Club?
I’d been working for many years in the video games industry. We’d always had a hard time (along with the rest of the IT sector) attracting new game programmers. A few years ago I decided to start teaching part time at London South Bank University and it was only then that I discovered the widespread lack of exposure to programming skills in schools. As a student in the 80’s I developed my programming skills on the government sponsored BBC micro and other home computers of the time. And I had grown up naively assuming that these educational programmes had continued. But in each year’s cohort I had only one or two students with previous experience in programming.
Our university runs a yearly game related conference, and it was at one of these conferences that the idea of teaching game programming to primary school children first came up. It was about this time that Eric Schmidt made a call to action to the government to address the need for a Computer Science curriculum in UK schools; the Livingstone-Hope skills report was finally gaining traction; I had developed an interest in visual programming as a way to introduce programming to beginners; and, I heard about Code Club for the first time. All of the pieces came together very quickly. For me it was a mixture of learning how to teach programming to beginners, giving today’s children some of the experiences I had grown up, and supplying my university course with students already able to program.
Describe your Code Club:
My first club was an after school club at Heaver’s Farm primary school. That started at the beginning of 2013 and ran for a couple of terms. The teacher there was enthusiastic and was able to run the club himself after that. But it became increasingly awkward for me to arrange work and club times particularly when I was commuting to Brighton. Fortunately, Code Club announced the option to run clubs from public spaces such as libraries and in June of 2013 I started my second club at Croydon Central Library. This club runs every week on Saturday morning from 9.30 to 10.30.
Through Croydon’s growing tech scene, I got to know several other local Code Club volunteers. Two of those, Marc, and Saleha now help me run the library club every Saturday. We started with 1 child and quickly grew to about a dozen. Most of our sign ups have come through the Code Club web site, but we also get new children through word of mouth and visitors to the Tech City meetings. We now have over 50 children registered with the club, although they don’t all attend every week, some are regulars and others just drop in when they are free.
We have 8 desktop computers allocated in the library and access to the wifi network. We usually have three laptops between us volunteers and many of the children bring their own.
What has having a Code Club brought to the library?
The club has brought a lot of children to the library at an otherwise quiet period of the day. But crucially, from the point of view of the staff I have spoken to, we have brought in a lot of boys that are normally under-represented in the library.
What tips would you give to any other libraries thinking of setting up a Code Club?
In the first instance, the Code Club website is a good resource for finding a local volunteer. I’d definitely recommend Saturday as the day to run the club as many more IT professionals will be free on that day. If you have someone interested but wants to know a bit more about it before committing to starting a club, please feel free to suggest that they visit us at the Croydon Central Library.
Describe a favourite moment from your club:
I think my favourite moments at the club are when the children show a genuine interest in gaining a deeper understanding of maths or geometry. One child begged me to tell them how many degrees it takes to go all the way around. Another worked out how many doublings it would take to get to 2048.
Want to follow the example of Croydon Library and set up a Code Club in your library? Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.