We can all agree that inspiring children to become engineers and scientists is of utter importance. However making a difference on a local level seems intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be so difficult.

Learn how you can help us inspire a million children to become engineers by providing just a few hours a month and a safe, collaborative meeting space.

The Challenge

A few years ago Robert Holler, the CEO and co-founder of VersionOne, challenged VersionOne employees to come up with an idea that would help children in our local community learn about programming and technology. This seemed like an exciting, though daunting, community service project.

At VersionOne we feel it is an important responsibility to help the community. That doesn’t mean just the agile community, but also the local community.

Typically when we do local community projects they are hosted by charities that manage projects. This project, on the other hand, would be completely managed by VersionOne employees. At first, this seemed like it might take a lot more time and effort than any of us really had. Nonetheless, we were very excited to try to make it work.event_258537472

There were a lot of ideas that would need varying degrees of resources, but after a little research we discovered the global CoderDojo movement. It was a movement started in Ireland in 2011 by an eighteen-year-old student and a serial entrepreneur. They developed a vision for creating a safe and collaborative environment in which experienced adult mentors help students who want to learn about technology and programming. Their model was fairly lean, making it easy to launch. Parents bring their kids and their own laptops, so we just needed space and mentors to get started.

Since VersionOne is an agile lifecycle management company, we were attracted to the lean nature of this program. Soon after, CoderDojo Ponce Springs was born!

How It Works

The way it works is that parents bring their kids, ages 7 through 17, with laptops in hand to a meeting place. (In our case, we also have a limited number of laptops that have been donated by VersionOne for kids who don’t have a laptop). Volunteers help the students learn a programming language or other creative tools.

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There are tons of great free resources like TeachingKidsProgramming.com, Khan Academy, Codecademy, CODE.org, Scratch, Blockly Games, and more. This makes it less burdensome for new volunteers to help because they don’t need to spend hours and hours creating their own resources.

However, a number of our volunteers have devoted additional time to creating step-by-step tutorials and interactive tools tailored to the needs of students who have been through the beginner materials online and want to more challenging things like building plugins for Minecraft or learning about building HTML5 JavaScript games.

Student-Driven Learning

We should stress, however, that the bulk of the work is on the students themselves! Mentors are there to assist and inspire, but not to provide long, drawn-out lectures. Students rapidly get hands on with the technologies and help each other learn. It’s a theme that’s woven throughout the CoderDojo movement. One of its own mentors is Sugata Mitra, who has conducted some amazing experiments in child-driven learning. Check out his TED talks to see what he discovered about the innate curiosity and capacity for learning and teaching that children possess.

Want to Start Your Own CoderDojo?

We share code and resources in GitHub in this open source and forkable CoderDojoPonceSprings repository. Feel free to create a copy of it and start one in your own community! Our Dojos take place in downtown Atlanta and in Alpharetta, Georgia, but one of our volunteers cloned our content and started a brand new CoderDojo in Henry County, about 30 minutes south of Atlanta.

Impact

It has been exciting to see the program still going strong for more than two years. The majority of the students are returning students, a good indication of the value they are getting from the program. In fact, many of the students have been participating for the entire program, and are becoming quite advanced. These are the students who have encouraging parents and peers outside of the Dojo as well, because it takes more just attending a Dojo to become really advanced.

What a CoderDojo is best at is providing the safe, collaborative environment for students who are ready and willing to learn to meet other enthusiastic peers with whom they can collaborate and increase their knowledge. Research has shown that when someone is learning something new, they often learn best from peers who are just slightly ahead. A CoderDojo also provides students who want to help others an opportunity to start giving back immediately. In one particular case, we had a student serve as a mentor to much younger students. He is thirteen and participated in a special event with students from an Atlanta elementary school.

A Million Children

Making a difference in the world can seem like a daunting feat, but the greatest lesson that I think has come out of our CoderDojo project is that by simply providing some space and time, we can inspire the next generation to get excited about programming and technology.

We probably have 300 different children come to our program each year. Over the next five years we hope to inspire 1,500 children in our program. If each of the three chapters that launched after ours has the same results, together we will inspire 4,500 children. And if 223 companies are willing to join us, we all can inspire 1,000,000 children over the next five years.

Volunteers in our Dojo are currently collaborating on tools and content to make starting a new CoderDojo even easier, if you’re interested to learn more or start your own CoderDojo, email us at coderdojo@versionone.com.

So what do you have to say, will you help us inspire the next generation of software programmers?

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Join the Discussion

    • Satish Thatte

      Josh,

      Enjoyed your blog. Sugata Mitra’s TED talks are very thought provoking and inspiring.
      Learned a lot about how children learn and how they self-organize.

      Regards,
      Satish Thatte

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