Volunteer Stories: Polly from Auto Trader (Part 1)

At this time of year we have lots of new Code Clubs starting, so when Polly Caldwell from Auto Trader got in touch to say that she wanted to share her volunteering story with us, we jumped at the opportunity.

Polly has now been running a Code Club for six months, and is keen to share her advice and experience in the hope that it may help encourage other would-be volunteers to take the plunge and start their own clubs.

We’ll be posting three blogs which chronicle Polly’s journey from (in her words) “ a nervous wreck to a (more or less) confident Code Club leader”, so let’s kick things off…


So you’ve decided to run a Code Club…

Hipster Robot 002As a professional developer working at Auto Trader, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to run a Code Club at a primary school. I learnt some extremely valuable things working with children, from who to go to for help, to figuring out the best way to motivate kids and getting them excited about code!

So if you’ve decided to run a Code Club for kids, read on. I hope you’ll be able to find some useful tips and take something you can apply to your own code clubbing experience.

Before you get ahead of yourself, there are a lot of things to cross off before you can start such a mammoth project! Firstly, anyone wanting to work with children under the age of 18 is required to have an Enhanced DBS check completed. Secondly, it’s recommended that you complete Code Club’s specific training. So I definitely had a lot on my plate.

One of the best ways to get the required checks and training done is to become a STEM ambassador. You start by registering online from the STEMNET website. Once this is complete you will be invited to attend one of the two-hour introductory training sessions. This was really useful as it covered all of the basics, as well as telling you a bit about the great organization that is STEMNET and all of the great opportunities that are available to you when you become a STEM ambassador.

To this training session you also take along the paperwork required to apply for your DBS check, this will get photocopied during the session and your application will be completed on your behalf.

As well as STEMNET training there is also some Code Club specific training that needs to be completed before you can register your Code Club. This training can be completed directly from the Code Club website.  If you are volunteering independently and need to find a school to run a Code Club at, the Code Club website can be used for this too. You can search for a venue within a given radius and contact your preferred school directly from the site. As I was volunteering through my work, they handled finding the school, but I still needed to register the Code Club on the Code Club website.

Preparation is key to feeling confident going into your first Code Club. Once I had my DBS certificate back I contacted the school that I had been paired with. After exchanging a few introductory emails I arranged a visit to the school. This was really valuable as not only was I able to meet the teacher who would be present at the Code Clubs, but I was also able to have a look at the equipment available.

I would recommend using a visit like this to check the websites you are going to use. Schools can have quite strict web access rules so it’s definitely worthwhile making sure you can reach all the sites you may take for granted; for instance, stack overflow was not available from the school’s network!

Halo 001It is also useful to gauge where the students are knowledge wise. The Code Club I ran was during summer term so the kids had already used Scratch and were fairly competent at the basics. I on the other hand had never used Scratch before and my knowledge consisted of what I had seen on the Barclays advert- perhaps not the best start!

So before the first session I worked my way through a few of the Scratch projects. The instructions that come with each of the projects are really comprehensive and easy to understand, although this does stand to reason as they’re for 9 to 11 year olds! There are “challenges” within the instructions where you are tasked with adding in additional sprites, functionality or enhancing what you have already done. I used these as an opportunity to personalize the project and make it my own, something that really appealed to the kids.

Something to note, if you don’t have time to do all the projects from the start…then you can cheat! This is quite easy – all you have to do is click on a project’s volunteer notes, where you will find a link to the completed project (you can see the rock band volunteer notes here).

Top Tip! You can use this Code Club checklist to help you plan the meeting with your club host: https://training.codeclub.org.uk/downloads/Checklist.pdf

Ada Lovelace Day Celebrations

Tuesday the 13th October is Ada Lovelace Day – an annual celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

800px-Ada_Lovelace_portraitThanks to the generous support from ARM, one of Code Club’s Strategic Partners, we have created a brand new Ada-themed Code Club project and school assembly pack, which we hope will be a fun and informative way of helping to shine a spotlight on Ada’s achievements and to help inspire more women and girls into careers in the technology sector.

Assembly plan

We’ve produced a ready to use assembly plan, which will allow schools to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day. The assembly plan focusses on:

  • Understanding the story of Ada Lovelace and her achievements
  • Reflecting on the significance of computer science
  • Considering the future and problems that can be solved by computer science  
  • Sharing stories of women in computing today

You can download the assembly plan and introduction notes here.

Ada themed Scratch project

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 14.38.14

Inspired by Ada’s “poetical science” approach to her study of mathematics, we’ve made a Scratch project which shows how to create a poetry generating machine!

As well as helping to develop core skills such as planning, problem solving and collaboration, the project also introduces the following programming concepts:

  • Sequencing Instructions;
  • Variables;
  • Repetition (loops);
  • Lists, and random list items.

Children can complete this project in school, or at home. The project includes step-by-step instructions for creating a basic poetry generator, as well as challenges to consolidate learning and encourage exploration and creativity.

The project also includes volunteer notes explaining how to use the project, and a completed poetry generator to demonstrate to children.

Share your work:

We’d love to view and share a selection of the best Ada projects and poems. If children would like the chance of seeing their work shared on our social media sites, those with a Scratch account can upload their creations to the Scratch website, and tag them with ‘ALD15’. You can also share your children’s creations with us directly on Twitter by tweeting us @CodeClub.

Have a go at “Ada’s Poetry Generator” by visiting jumpto.cc/poetry.

We hope you’ll enjoy using these resources – please share them far and wide and help inspire more children to get excited about coding and Ada Lovelace Day!

Thank You, BrowserStack!

We’d like to say a big “thank you” to BrowserStack who have donated free access to their service to us and, in doing so, have made our cross-browser testing a whole lot easier! We’ve been using BrowserStack for a few weeks now and it’s already proving to be pretty invaluable.

BrowserStack provides browser-based access to virtualized web browsers on a variety of virtualized devices / operating systems. The selection is truly mind-boggling; want to test your site in IE9 on Windows 7? Done. Chrome 41 on OS X Yosemite? No problem. iOS & Android browsers/devices are also widely supported (see the full list here)

We were able to thoroughly test our recently re-launched Projects site with very little effort (no jumping from machine to machine, or spending time setting up an array of virtual machines) and can now more easily deal with browser-specific bugs & issues that our users encounter since they can be reproduced with just a few clicks – select an OS, browser & version to match that in the bug report and you’re all set.

Needless to say, we’re pretty chuffed. We use a bunch of virtual machines as part of our regular development workflow, but BrowserStack helps keep the amount we need at a far more manageable level.

Thanks BrowserStack! (hugs)