CoderDojo Nenagh 3 years on

We’re coming up to our 3rd birthday at CoderDojo Nenagh so I thought I’d share some of what has been happening over the past 3 years.  We’ve been running once a month since the 18th April 2012 with the exception of the summer break and we’ve settled into a great routine.  In the beginning Scratch was the mainstay of the Dojo but we also had Arduino and Python workshops.  For the last year we’ve had Scratch and HTML groups happily working on projects.

For me one of the highlights of the past 3 years was in February 2014 when James Daly and Michael Murphy from Atom Split Games came to do a workshop.  We all thought James and Michael would come with cool technology to show us (well I certainly did 🙂 ), but they came with … paper and markers!  What transpired was a Design workshop that certainly stopped me in my tracks. Our instructions were to put away the laptops and get drawing.  It was an electric session that culminated in a series of presentations that symbolise for me all that is good in CoderDojo.  Here’s a selection of images form that workshop

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DesignWS2Another highlight has been the collaboration with Nenagh Foróige that has just begun.  Our Dojo has been lucky to have a space provided for us by Nenagh Arts Centre since the beginning. Foróige are housed in the same building and before Christmas I was approached with a view to a collaboration.  Foróige run an entrepreneurship programme and they wanted to work with a group of our ninjas with CoderDojo providing the technological know how.  A group was chosen and the fun and games started at the beginning of February.  It’s mostly team building at the moment but in their second week they went to Google HQ in Dublin.  I wasn’t a bit jealous!  10 of our ninjas went and took part in a Dragon’s Den on the day and one of our teams won 🙂  I’m really looking forward to seeing how this evolves over the coming year …

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Over the years there have been many other highlights that come as part of the package that is CoderDojo … the hum of conversation as ninjas work together making their own games, animations and websites, the smile as a problem is sorted, the quiet confidence as ninjas share what they’ve been working on not to mention the smiling faces coming in the door and the groan when I tell them it’s time to pack up …

It’s been a great few years as CoderDojo Nenagh has evolved.  This has been possible with the help of the parents, some of my former students who have been generous with their time and of course the ninjas themselves.  I’m looking forward to what comes next for the Dojo … 🙂

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Junior Entrepreneur Programme in the Convent Primary Nenagh

My daughter is in 6th class at the moment and seems to be really enjoying her last year in Primary School.  This is in no small part due to the many projects her class are undertaking under the guidance of her teacher.  They’ve undertaken a variety of research projects as well as the Intel Mini Scientist Programme and more recently the Junior Entrepreneur Programme (JEP).  I was lucky enough to make it in to the school for the JEP showcase the week before last and I’m so glad that I did.  What greeted me was a class of 29 girls eager to share their ideas, evidence of their hard work and most of all their enthusiasm.

The programme started back around Christmas time when the girls were asked to each come up with an idea that they could produce as part of the programme.  They then worked in small groups and each group chose one idea to bring forward.  Some of the ideas included customised hoodies, smartphone speakers, bracelets and more …

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Over the course of the programme the girls learned more about business and were visited by a local entrepreneur.  Each team then worked on their idea before presenting it at a Dragon’s Den in the school.  After the Dragons’s Den one idea was chosen for the entire class to progress with and another iteration of the process began.  The class were divided into teams including :  StoryTelling, Finance, Sales, Design & Production and Marketing.  Each team had an area to work on and got to work.  What blew me away at the showcase was that as soon as you stepped in to the hall, the girls were full of chat to tell you all about what they had done.   The teams showed articles from the local paper,  their ideas of the qualities an entrepreneur should have

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their surveys

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their fab logo

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their flyer

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and last but by no means least their fab bracelets

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Check out the class blog post where you can find their PowerPoint of their JEP Story. One of the girls also created a website for the product based on the HTML she learned at CoderDojo Nenagh.

I’ve been going in to the girls showing them some IT concepts since they were in senior infants so it’s been lovely to see them grow into the confident young girls they have become.

Scratch National Finals


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May 2nd saw me make my way to Dublin Castle for the National Scratch Finals. The decision was made to run the finals on the same day as the Formula 1 in Schools finals which were taking place at the end of the first Irish Tech Week.   I’d been asked a few weeks previously to judge the competition and despite some hesitation I decided to agree. My hesitation came from my lack of experience of judging a competition like this, or in fact any competition.  I’m so glad that I did agree as I got a chance to see first hand the creativity on display.

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I arrived in Dublin Castle at about 10.30 to be briefed on the task in hand.  I was down to judge in the 5th and 6th class category with two other judges.  We were to judge the entries separately and then meet to agree the winner in the category.  Then came the hard work of judging.  I have to admit I really enjoyed this part as it gave me an opportunity to chat with the students about their projects.  There were five projects in total and in my naivety I thought I’d get through them reasonably quickly giving me the chance to see some of the other projects on display.  This wasn’t to be the case because I found that once I started asking questions the children just wanted to talk about their projects.  It was clear that they all really enjoyed working on them and that they had learnt a lot in the process.  From my perspective, this made them all winners 🙂 Of course, they couldn’t all be winners but choosing our overall winner wasn’t as difficult as I had originally thought.  Sometimes one project stands out from the others and this was the case for us.  Having said that, it was a close contest and it was great to see two projects from our category awarded the ‘Best Educational Content’ award and the ‘Best Social Project’ award.  I even got to present the Best Technical Sophistication award

Photo courtesy of the www.scratch.ie website

Photo courtesy of the http://www.scratch.ie website

All in all it was a great day with the beautiful Dublin Castle providing a stunning backdrop for the days proceedings.

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Imagine Cup

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Tuesday March 4th saw me in the Dublin HQ of Microsoft for the Imagine Cup National Finals.   Imagine Cup is a global student competition run by Microsoft.   Two Games students from Limerick Institute of Technology, Joseph Bentley and Ger Stone, had entered the competition and asked me to be their mentor.  To our delight they were chosen for the National Finals in the Games category.  On the day, there were finalists in three categories – Games,  Innovation and World Citizenship. First up the team had to demo their product to attendees on the day.  This seemed to go really well with people really liking Cavernauts,  their cave based game.

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Next up was the presentation to the judges.  Despite a few technical difficulties, this too went well, with Joe and Ger dealing with both the tech difficulties as well as any questions from the judges.  We were delighted to be deemed the winners in the Games category later that evening.

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So, now we’re through to the World Semi Finals – woohoo 🙂  This involves producing a 10 minute video presentation and a proposal document to be completed by this coming Wednesday, 30th April.  Over the last few weeks the lads have moved the game on from a prototype to a more rounded game with additional functionality.  It’s now available for download on itch.io.  Wish us well in the next phase of the competition (oh and download the game please 🙂 ).

BETT 2014

I’ve followed the BETT story of many #edchatie teachers on Twitter over the past few years jealously.  It never seemed to work out that I too could go – that is until this year.  Anyone who had previously been, extolled the virtues of going to BETT, and I wondered if it could possibly live up to the hype.  Having now seen it for myself, I can categorically state that it did! BETT runs over four days and I went for the last two – the Friday which included a TeachMeet and the Saturday.

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I had done a little bit of preparation before making the trip but it was of the download the app and the material variety rather than actually engaging with what was available.  On the Thursday night I had a look at the talks and made a rough plan of what talks I wanted to see over the following few days.  I figured that from an exhibitor point of view I would just wait and see what caught my eye.  It turned out that I was completely unprepared for the wide variety of exhibitors that were at BETT.  There was something for everyone, but I have to admit that I found the sheer volume a bit overwhelming, particularly on the Friday.  As a result I made the decision to focus almost entirely on the talks.  There was plenty to choose from with more than 50 talks on Friday alone!

First up for me was Arvin Ross talking about Digital Storytelling.  Arvin gave a very engaging talk and shared his pick of the best apps to help with Storytelling

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The Puppet Pals app also got a mention as a great app for Story telling.

Next choice for me was Ed Cooke talking about memory techniques and how they can be used to super power student learning.  What struck me was how Ed got us all to remember 20 seemingly unrelated objects by weaving them into a story.  Seeing how we remembered the items both backwards and forwards was a revelation.  The final surprise was revealed when Ed told us that the 20 objects were in fact elements from the Periodic Table (the balloon representing Helium etc.).  Check out memrise.com for more information.

At lunchtime I decided to go to the Flipped Learning session in the main arena.  The session was given by Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann, co-founders of the Flipped Classroom.  I’ve been toying with the idea of introducing some aspects of flipped learning so it was great to hear about how others have made it work and what their students have gained from it.  One of my takeaways from this session, was that the Flipped Classroom does not dehumanise the classroom, but rather that it places the teacher even more at the centre of the class  as the focus has changed.  The very strong message was the importance of relationships in the classroom, a point that was reinforced in the drawings that were to be found on the outside of the BETT arena

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After a quick bite to eat it was time to go to Doug Belshaw’s masterclass on improving digital literacy among staff and students.  What I loved about Doug’s talk was that it was more of a conversation starter than a masterclass as it prodded us to consider a broad range of literacies as opposed to a single one.

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I particularly loved this  proverb

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I know which is my preference – what’s yours?

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My final session of the day was Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ talk – ‘Beyond the Limits’. It was billed as an Inspirational Keynote and boy did it deliver!  Hearing Sir Ranulph recount his tales of crossing both the Artic and the Antartic was active learning at it’s very best.  It’s great to get a chance to hear people of this calibre speak at events like this.  I love to hear people from outside the educational domain speak at educational events as they often have a different perspective which challenges up to think differently.  

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By this stage it was time for me to do a talk of my own.  I had been asked to speak at the OCR stand about CoderDojo with Mags Amond.  I wasn’t sure how it was going to work as it wasn’t a scheduled talk – it was more a case of start talking and hope that people would stop and listen.  It turned out to be a more enjoyable experience than I had imagined – Mags and I worked well together and a good few people stopped and listened.

The rest of Friday was taken up with the TeachMeet which I’ve previously written about here and the TeachEat, an opportunity to chat and mingle and generally relax after a long, busy day.

First up on Saturday was ‘Learning Science with iPads’ with Ed Walsh.

edwalshI was very interested in the next session ‘Analytical and predictive primary math teaching in Finland.  Finland is often held up as an exemplar regarding education so I was curious as to what we might find out from this talk.   I was a bit taken aback to find that the same issues around Maths education are to be found there

IMG_8609We heard about the emphasis on autonomy and teacher training that are so central to the Finnish education system but also the issues around integrating ICT into the system

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It’s good to get this viewpoint and to see that teachers in many different countries are dealing with similar issues to the ones we face in this country.

IMG_8650One of the last sessions I went to was the Stemettes Hackathon.  It was such an enjoyable session and reminded me a lot of CoderDojo.  I loved how Anne Marie led the hackathon and used the example of making a jam sandwich to demonstrate the concept of an algorithm with the girls who had come to work on developing websites in real time.

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The future is safe with these kinds of initiatives …

And so we come to the last session of BETT2014 – ‘The Great Education Debate – can technology ever replace the classroom?’  We heard short presentations from the panelists : Tim Rylands who stole the show in my view, Anne Lise Kjaer, Maggie Philbin, Ian Bauckham and Simon Milner.  I learned a new term from Tim – the elsie as opposed to the selfie.

elsieOne of the ideas that was reinforced during the closing session was the importance of the teacher in the classroom while recognising the power of technology to hook students and to facilitate learning.  It’s good to see that the emphasis on technology in education is entirely about its integration into the classroom, as an aid to teaching and learning, and not about it’s use for it’s own sake.  Plenty of food for thought until next year …

IMG_8654 While I’ve focused in this post on the talks I attended, the most important aspect of attending conferences for me is the opportunity to chat to other educators.   I was fortunate to spend the weekend at BETT in the company of Helen, Bianca, Mags and Kathleen as well as many of the #edchatie folk who made the trip to BETT.  Chatting about what you are hearing and seeing helps to process all of the information that is being thrown in your direction.  I definitely get more from a conference when I get a chance to discuss it with others.  It’s also good to hear about the work going on in classrooms across Ireland and beyond … hearing Bianca talking about “her” kids and the amazing projects that they are working on, hearing Mags and Kathleen talk about the importance of the relationships they have with their students, hearing Helen talk about the success of the How I Learn book all serve to invigorate you in what you are doing in you own classroom.  It’s also amazing to get the chance to catch up with people like Steve Bunce, Doug Belshaw, Helen Keegan, Dughall McCormack, Joe Dale and so many more.  It’s only when you get a chance to reflect on the overall experience of BETT that you begin to realise just how much you get from attending!  I’m looking forward to BETT 2015 already 🙂

They came …they kicked ass

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… and boy did they kick ass!! The Coder Dojo Conference 2013 took place in Drogheda and Slane Castle last weekend and what a whirlwind it was. Friday night in the Brú Bistro in Drogheda was a great kickstarter for the conference.  People shared their experiences and highlights from Coderdojos across the world with MC for the night Stephen Howell keeping it all moving smoothly.  It was great to get a chance to meet people and start the sharing of ideas in such a relaxed environment.

Saturday morning saw the conference move to Slane Castle and I have to say, from the minute I drove into the castle I was blown away! 

Slane Castle

Slane Castle

I think I spent most of the day looking up

Above my head!

Above my head!

The juxtaposition of old and new was commented on by many on the day

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They say the devil is in the detail and at DojoCon this was so true.  I loved the details like the polystyrene hashtags …

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the lanyards which incorporated the conference programme …

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and so much more.   Hats off to all in CoderDojo Drogheda and anyone else who was involved in putting together such a great event 🙂

Úna Fox was an inspired choice as MC for the day, her relaxed and witty style was perfect.  Rumour has it she has her eye on the Late Late so watch this space!

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The conference kicked off with James Whelton, CoderDojo co-founder, followed by entrepreneur, Jerry Kennelly from tweak.com.  It was great to hear James speak about how CoderDojo has developed and the plans for the future.  Jerry gave a thought provoking presentation reminding us of the many strengths us Irish possess, something we seem to have forgotten along the way!

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Before lunch Bill Liao, CoderDojo co-founder, was interviewed by Úna.  During the interview Bill spoke about social inclusion and put forward the idea of a handshake rather than a hand out or a hand up.  With a handshake all parties in the transaction benefit which is so much more powerful.

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Running throughout the day there were sessions in the Education, Technology and Running a Dojo streams.  In the first session I went to the ‘Girls Initiative’ session with Rebecca Garcia and Karen O’Connell. It’s good to hear about these initiatives to connect with teenage girls, and encourage them into the STEM areas.  Slides on the session can be found here.  In the second session I went to the ‘Just Code’ panel with Catherine Cronin, Jake Enget and Bernard Kirk.

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Next up was Mags Amond’s ‘Putting the children first’ session and as always Mags reminded us of the simple things like clarity of message and that there is much to learn in failing.

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failbetterIn the next session I attended David Cuartielles’ session on ‘Hacking Secondary School. The Hardware Way’.  David is a co-founder of the Arduino platform.  We have some Arduino kits in Limerick and my lot are really enjoying working with them so I was interested to hear some more and David didn’t disappoint.  My son would have been delighted with this

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… so maybe it’s best he wasn’t there 🙂

I sat on a panel with John Looney and Carina Girvan on ‘Re-Inventing Education’ in the final breakout session of the day.  It was an interesting session and one which has really got me thinking so watch this space for a blog post on some of my thoughts.

I really enjoyed the sessions I went to and from what I heard the other sessions were equally enjoyable.

And so we come to the closing keynote and for this I’ll finish as I started.  Kimberley Bryant delivered the closing keynote.  She came … she kicked ass … and boy did she kick ass!!  It’s not easy to take the floor at 6pm after a long and hectic day.  It’s not easy to take the floor after Lord Henry Mountcharles has regaled your audience with tales of his ancestors. It’s not easy to take the floor after Julie Feeney sang ‘Impossibly Beautiful’ in honour of Úna Fox’s birthday.  But that’s exactly what Kimberley did and in her understated, powerful way she blew us all away!  I connected with Kimberley as she spoke about her motivation to  start Black Girls code, she’s a mother who wanted to give her daughter an opportunity to connect with technology in a meaningful way.

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My children were the catalyst for my initial interaction with CoderDojo.  We heard Kimberly talk about the ethos of Black Girls Code

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This mirrors so much of what is good about CoderDojo.  I’ll leave you with Kimberley’s closing thoughts and hope they provide as much food for thought for you as they did for me.

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african proverb

The Generation Game

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Last Friday we went along to ‘The Generation Game’ family fun day in Dell in Limerick.  The event was organised by the Event Management students in LIT in conjunction with the Limerick CoderDojo.  There was lots to see and do on the day as you can see from the photos

Getting started ...

Getting started …

Flama Games

Flama Games

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Choice of workshops

Busy workshops :-)

Busy workshops 🙂

Retro Gaming

Retro Gaming

PacMan cupcakes

PacMan cupcakes

Whack a Politician app

Whack a Politician app

Stephen Howell

Stephen Howell in action

Games Fleadh winners

Games Fleadh winners

Not just coding ...

Not just coding …

Having too much fun :-)

Having too much fun 🙂

Well done to the Event Management students and Eugene McDonough for organising a great family day.