Try a Pioneers challenge with your Code Club!

Have you heard of the new Raspberry Pi Pioneers programme, which challenges children and young people aged 11 to 16 to get together and use technology to make awesome things? Code Club Regional Coordinator and volunteer Lorna Gibson took part in the last challenge, acting as mentor for her Code Club’s Pioneers project. She told us a bit about her experience:

I have been running a Code Club since January of 2014. At our school we have developed a strong culture of being digitally creative: the larger of our two Code Clubs has over 40 children attending because we have rarely had anyone leave. This means that many of the young people there have been with me since the very early days, and they have devoured the Code Club materials and every suggestion of “Go off and find out more about X!” that I could come up with. Last year I prepared various challenges to help them extend their knowledge, keep their enthusiasm going, and – to be honest – to keep them busy. So when I first heard about the termly Pioneers challenges, I jumped for joy!

A big attraction of running a Code Club was always how simple and easy it is, since the projects do all the thinking for you. Pioneers has the same appeal: the programme coordinators have done the hard work of coming up with the challenges and the stimulus materials for the teams. They provide a multitude of resources that are tailored to the challenges and have enough variety to appeal to everyone. The resources are perfect for getting started and learning new skills. The competitive element of the Pioneers challenges helps give a real-world context to the activities, and also (and this is where I definitely can’t match up) there are cool prizes to be won. Pioneers is a perfect accompaniment to Code Club since it allows young people to use the knowledge and skills they have developed in a creative challenge.

If you can run a Code Club, it’s definitely possible to support a team to enter a Pioneers challenge. The Pioneers coordinators estimate that one Pioneers challenge takes about 10 hours of contact time over the three months for which the challenge is open. While we worked on our project as a weekly club activity, some teams run a shorter hackathon-style event to work on theirs. Whatever is practical for you, all teams will go through roughly the same project stages, nicely summed up by one of my first Pioneers teams:

→ The theme is announced

→ Go crazy with ideas

→ Design and develop something epic

→ Reflect on making – what did you learn?

→ Make a cool video (a mobile phone is all that’s needed!)

→ Submit the cool video

→ Celebrate your awesomeness!

At each stage, the team will need support to get to the next one, without being spoonfed of course. This is where you come in! If you are considering mentoring a team, don’t be put off because you think you will have to solve big technical issues for them – you could do that, but I think it would defeat the purpose of the challenge. Instead, think of yourself as a facilitator: be the team’s sounding board (we all know that often when we explain a problem to someone else, often routes to the solution present themselves); be their inspiration (show them that you don’t know everything yourself and point them towards ways to find solutions on their own); most of all, be their cheerleader (celebrate their successes, and also their resilience after setbacks).

You can find out lots more about Pioneers on the Raspberry Pi website, and be sure to have a look at the fantastic Pioneers mentors guidebook here.