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Starting a CoderDojo in the UK

CoderDojo is an international organisation providing free coding clubs for children ages 7-17. I recently co-founded a new club in my local village and wanted to share the process we followed to get up and running. It’s a great thing to do to help get more kids into coding and encourage them in to STEM careers.

Here are the steps we took to set up a new CoderDojo in the UK.

Pick the right organisation

The first step is to be sure that CoderDojo is the right home for your coding club. We felt it was a great fit due to the laid back culture (it shouldn’t feel like school!) as well as the great resources they provide for exercises and activities. They also have an event booking system to make it easy for parents to sign up.

There are other organisations available as well. If you’re looking to start a club in your local school, then take a look at CodeClub.

Find your Venue

Of course you’ll need a venue to host your club. I’d highly recommend starting by talking to your local library. Ours was really enthusiastic about getting involved, and let us use their space and Wi-Fi for free.

Other community centres and spaces would be a good backup option, but there may be a hiring fee associated with this in which case you’ll need to find funding (for example corporate sponsorship), as you can’t charge for attending a CoderDojo. Just make sure the venue has a room which can be set up with tables for people to work at, and that it has Wi-Fi available.

Finally, make sure that your chosen venue’s insurance covers this sort of event, and that they have an up-to-date fire safety certificate.

Volunteers

You can’t run the club single handedly, so you’ll need to recruit some extra help. CoderDojo calls these people “mentors”, and while they will mostly come from a technical background there is also plenty of opportunity for non-technical people to get involved as well.

Aim for roughly 1 mentor for every 7 children (or “ninjas” as they are called at the Dojo), and make sure you have some contingency to cover sessions where some mentors are not able to attend.

Mentors will need to be background checked, and in the UK this is a DBS check. The easiest way for you and your mentors to acquire this is via the STEM ambassadors programme, which provides the check for free to anyone who volunteers their time at a qualifying event, which includes CoderDojo. Sign up here.

I found mentors through our community Facebook group, but the STEM website also provides the option to advertise for volunteers.

Date & Time

Decide when you’re going to run the sessions, how long they will last and how frequently. We chose to run fortnightly, every other Sunday from 1-3pm.

Equipment

Many people bring their own laptops along to the sessions, so it’s possible to run a Dojo without any extra equipment. It is useful to have extra machines available though, for those that don’t have their own or to avoid siblings fighting over their one laptop!

Plan the session

Plan out what will happen when during your session. We based ours on the schedule recommended in the CoderDojo handbook:

Time Activity
1245 Mentors arrive & set up ready for session
1300 Ninjas arrive
1315 Introduction
1320 Icebreaker
1330 Coding begins!
1445 Showcase
1455 Wrap-up

Icebreaker

This is a short exercise at the start of the session, to give the children a chance to get to know each other and to have a bit of fun.

CoderDojo have a few example icebreakers here and in this blog post.

Coding Exercises

It’s up to the ninjas to decide what they’d like to work on, but to help them decide we often set a theme for the week, for example a challenge to make the scariest game for Halloween.

They often invent their own games or stories, but in case they need some inspiration or guidance there are loads of tutorials on the Raspberry Pi website. The Scratch exercises are great for beginners, but there are also more advanced projects using Python and html/javascript.

Register with CoderDojo

Once you’ve got all the details nailed down, make it official by registering with CoderDojo and completing their verification process. This will allow people to find your Dojo via the website, as well as providing an event booking system so people can book places at your sessions.

Once you’ve done this, you can also apply for a free welcome pack containing stickers, badges and tutorial print-outs.

Set the date and spread the word

You’re now ready to finalise the date for your first Dojo session, and start advertising. Create the event on the CoderDojo website and you’re ready for people to start signing up.

We found that posting on our local Facebook group was sufficient to get enough people along initially, but you may also want to put up posters in local shops or post elsewhere online.

Good luck with starting your new club! Here are a few more links to useful resources to help you get started:

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