What Is CoderDojo Altona North – CoderDojo is a global movement of free, volunteer-led, community based programming clubs for young people. We are the Altona North (Melbourne, Australia) chapter of this amazing initiative. Our sessions run every Saturday from 0900 – 1100 at the Altona North Library during school terms only. We are thankful to Hobsons Bay City Council for their on-going support. To learn more about the work we are doing and to get your child onto the waiting list please head over to – https://altonanorthdojo.com/
Hands On engineering activities – Our weekly class involves kids, parents focusing on different STEM challenges i.e. programming, electronics, robotics, making, creating, etc. depending on where they are in their learning path. However once every term we try to divide up the kids, parents into groups and get them to compete against each other in a STEM challenge that involves making, creating. The competition is healthy and it’s mostly involved teams working against the clock on some sort of an engineering challenge.
This challenge has taken different forms over the years, one year we ran a paper plane challenge where the kids, parents designed, tested and flew paper planes. The teams who flew planes that went the furthest was the winner. One term we tried paper castles, where kids and parents were given news papers and asked to build the tallest castles they could only using paper and sticky tape, nothing else. The activity is timed and you have limited resources available to complete the build. One of my favorite ones is called marshmallow bridges which we’ve run a couple of times so far and it’s always been a hit.
The marshmallow challenge involves teams of parents, kids working together to compete in a bridge building exercise using marshmallows and toothpicks. Each of the teams are given 15 minutes of preparation time. Kids, parents are encouraged to look up engineering resources to identify suitable design approaches that would allow for building the strongest bridge using limited amount of materials in the shortest amount of time. Each of the teams are provided limited but equal numbers of toothpicks and marshmallows for their build. The prep part of the challenge lasts for 15mins and the actual build lasts 30-45 minutes depending on the size of the teams and the age-groups present on the day.
It’s interesting to see team dynamics play out here. There are times when based on your gut feeling, experience working with a child, parent team you expect them to approach the design, build activity in a given way however they actually end up pursuing a very different approach, possibly due to team dynamics, other unknowns. Time and again it has been proven in class that the winning teams are not generally the teams with the smartest children or parents in it but rather the those parents, kids who are able to apply themselves, collaborate with each other, share the workload, do their homework to identify potential options and then refine their designs before they commit to the entire construction. It’s surprising to see the qualities that make the winning teams standout, strong STEM skills are important but not necessarily the key indicators of a great outcome. Out of the 4 teams that participated in the challenge only two ended up with a working bridge, the other two teams struggled to build something that would even stand, this is in stark contrast to our last attempt at bridge building using marshmallows and toothpicks.
On the way back home i was telling myself, it’s probably time to go back and revisit the fundamentals, remind ourselves of the engineering design, build process. A lot of great ideas didn’t make it into the final build, a refresher of the engineering design process might help the teams better focus the energies next time around.
End of Term 1 activities – It’s been an interesting Term 1 here at CoderDojo Altona North. Over the last few years we have been mostly focused on complex STEM activities like robotics, electronics, game design, etc. and as a result have ended up paying little attention to web programming or just web development in general. This term we decided to spend time focusing on web development that’s what the kids, parents have been doing the entire team. Our kids have been working through the learning content at https://learning.kidzcancode.com and working through the Web Design tutorials there. Most of the kids in class have completed the first Web Design track and are starting to focus on the second Web Design track while starting to put some focus on their term projects.
The kids had been asked to think about what sort of Web design projects they might work on and have been given a few themes to focus on. The themes included – Safety online and Renewable Energy. The kids were asked to work through a few ideas, run them past the volunteers, whiteboard potential options and then land on one idea which they would focus on. Once they got past that initial goalpost each of the teams were asked to pull together wireframes for their own projects, whiteboard the initial wireframes, run it past a volunteer and then transfer the wireframes to paper. The kids will get back to the Web Design projects when they get back in Term 2 2023.
As part of the end of term activities on the 1st of April 2023 the kids, parents gathered at Cherry Lake for a Foxhunt. We divide up the parents, kids into two teams. Then one of the volunteers hides the transmitter also called as Fox and the two teams then use their directional Yagi antennas to go looking for the Fox. These are special low power foxes (transmitters) designed to run on 2m (146.575 Mhz) designed and built for us by VK3TRO Rohan Ahmad. While the receivers (blue box on the antennas) are designed and built by VK3YNG (Brian). The antennas are directional Yagi antennas that i built at home using an existing design (Amateur Radio expert from the US provides the plans, available on the internet). The kids run around the park trying to locate the fox. The receiver provides an audible tone along with a number showing signal strength, the combination of which will vary when you are pointing the antenna towards or away from the Fox.
The kids are pretty good, they’ve picked up Fox hunting skills and do a great job locating the fox. We had two attempts at finding the fox, the kids were successful both the time at the locating the hidden fox. We ran a final one for the parents, where the kids and volunteers hid the fox, challenging the parents to go looking for the fox using their antennas. I was amazed at how enthusiastic the parents were, did managed to hunt the fox down within the first 15 mins. Overall a great outdoor STEM experience for the kids, the Foxhunt is always a popular activity with both parents, kids and volunteers. We got together at the end, shared some eats the parents had brought, then packed up for the day and everyone went home. Another term at CoderDojo Altona North comes to an end.
Helping launch CoderDojo Footscray – A few months ago one of the program co-ordinators from the West Footscray Neighborhood Home (WFNH) got in touch with regards to helping them setup a codeclub for the kids, parents in the community. It was an opportunity i couldn’t pass up, i had to do whatever i could to get the up and running. I knew that whatever approach i was going to take, it would have to be designed to make use of the little personal time i have. I thought hard, came up with an approach that would involve me doing some of the leg work with the volunteer team at CoderDojo Altona North involved to some extent. Involving the team at CoderDojo Altona North would given the volunteers an opportunity to see how a new Dojo is setup but it also get them engaged in STEM community initiatives they would otherwise have no visibility of. CoderDojo Footscray is a joint venture between CoderDojo Altona North and the West Footscray Neighborhood House.
From my perspective it made the setup process that much more interesting, but it also allowed for me to share some of the workload for setting up CoderDojo Footscray with the volunteers at CoderDojo Altona North. So far I’ve been able to get recruiting going using ads at Volunteer Victoria’s website including Seek Volunteering’s website. We’ve been able to recruit 3 volunteers so far, looking for more volunteers to join the team. Each of the volunteers from CoderDojo Footscray will come over to CoderDojo Altona North, spend a term working with us to understand how things work, how we run the class, gain the relevant skills and then head over to CoderDojo Footscray to help run the class there.
With support from the team of volunteers at CoderDojo Altona North we’ve built the website for CoderDojo Footscray at https://footscraydojo.com and now need to schedule a date when we can go into West Footscray Neighborhood house to checkout the setup there and identify equipment that might be required to run the sessions. The folks at WFNH have been really helpful, they are thankful for the support we’ve been giving them and are keen to launch CoderDojo Footscray later this year.
There’s a lot more work to be done before we can launch CoderDojo Footscray. Also, of the other CodeClubs I’ve helped launch over the years only one of them has continued to function post the initial first year. Hopefully with the lessons learned we’ve increased our chance of survival past the first year.
Getting Back To Work – It’s time to enjoy the term break, use the time to work through pending volunteer admin activities across all the volunteer groups i run, plan for the next term and recharge our batteries. Hopefully you enjoyed the post and picked up some relevant nuggets of information to help you launch your own codeclub whatever part of the world you are located in. Drop me a note at trevor at hack2 dot live if you have any questions, comments or feedback.