After a few false starts, my 12 year old son and I finally made it to the 4th Coder Dojo in Limerick. CoderDojo is a not for profit organisation which aims to teach Software Programming and Design to school kids and older (Aged 8-25). I saw some tweets about Coder Dojo over the last few weeks and felt it would be good to take my son along. I didn’t know what to expect and after attending one I’m not sure that I can do it justice in my explanation here.
We arrived to the Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre at the LIT campus in Limerick to find about 15 people, from age 9 upwards. As it was my sons first Dojo I asked if it would be ok to stay, which was fine with Mark and Eugene, the mentors for the Limerick Coder Dojo. Once everyone got their laptops set up we were put into teams – there were about five new recruits so we were distributed among the teams from last week. We ended up on team 2 with Sarah, another new recruit, and Bojan, an old hand. The format of the day is very much task based, with the tasks giving opportunities to solve problems as we went.
Our first task was to plan what our website should look like. We did this using Balsamiq (www.balsamiq.com), which allowed us to create a mockup of what we were hoping to achieve in our website. It was great to see the teams working together to decide what they wanted. On our team we discussed what we wanted and came up with the idea of having a team logo. Because of the martial arts connotation we decided on a Ninja as our logo. Discussion ensued around whether we should draw a ninja or use an image already created. Common sense prevailed once we realised that none of us were particularly good at drawing! Once we found an image we liked, we logged into WordPress to make changes to the website that had been started by the group last week. We made some changes to the background images and then tried to upload our image, with very little luck.
By this stage it was time for lunch. Over lunch, we discovered that one of the tasks for the afternoon was to discover why we couldn’t upload the image. So after lunch we set about researching what the problem might be. Throughout the day Mark and Eugene were moving between the teams seeing how they were getting on and asking questions which gently nudged us in the direction of a solution to the problem. In this case the problem was to do with file permissions. Once we got this sorted, our next task was to add functionality to the website to allow a user to login or logout. This required a change to the PHP code underlying the website. Again we needed to research the problem, find the code we needed to add, and then figure out where to put it. After a couple of attempts we managed to get it working just in time for the end of the Dojo.
I wasn’t sure if David had enjoyed the day, he seemed to enjoy the early part but lost interest a bit when we were changing the PHP code. On the way home though he left me in no doubt that he had great fun and was looking forward to the next one. I have to say I enjoyed it myself and what I loved most was the relaxed atmosphere which allowed the young, and not so young, to learn by trying to do things. The other bit that really worked for me was the focus on getting your hands dirty by looking at the code behind the WordPress content. Next week is Scratch week so we’re really looking forward to that.
Thanks to Mark, Eugene, Sarah and Bojan for making our first Dojo so enjoyable 🙂
More information on Coder Dojo can be found at http://www.coderdojo.com.