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Schools

Kids + coding + fun = CoderDojo


Courtesy of Erik Zhang
Loyola School fifth-grader Erik Zhang uses programming tools such as Unity, above, with guidance from mentors at the CoderDojo program.

I’m a fifth-grader at Loyola School in Los Altos. In the heart of the Silicon Valley, everyone works in the high-tech industry, and many of them start at a very young age. Nevertheless, it’s still unusual to see 40-plus elementary school kids crowding Microsoft Corp.’s Silicon Valley Campus on a Wednesday afternoon, ready to code with laptops in hand. Fortunately, we aren’t child labor for Microsoft. We are here to learn how to code games with the latest programs like Python, Unity or Scratch.

For free.

It is made possible because a new CoderDojo was formed in our area in August 2012. With the tireless efforts of the founding team, many coding sessions like this have been organized for kids my age featuring great corporate sponsorships (like Microsoft, in this case) and countless volunteer mentors to teach.

CoderDojo, founded by Bill Liao and James Whelton, was started in James’ school in early 2011 when he received some publicity after hacking into an iPod Nano. Some younger students expressed an interest in learning how to code. James set up a computer club in his school, where he taught basic CSS and HTML. Later that year he met Bill, an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Together, they decided to make the program into something bigger than just an after-school computer club. They successfully launched the first CoderDojo, which provides free and open learning in programming technology, in June 2011.

Since I started going to CoderDojo, I’ve learned many new programming tools, including Unity and Python, and have developed many games of my own. I have shared these games with my little brother and many of our friends, and they all loved them. I can’t help but feel how lucky I am to have this wonderful opportunity to play with the latest technology, with so many experts walking around available to help whenever I have a problem.

Not many kids my age have this kind of opportunity. In fact, I remember the comments from my dad about the fact that he never touched a computer until he was 20. Even in this day and age, many kids don’t have a computer, let alone the opportunity to learn from the brightest programmers while they are still in elementary school, for free.

What a wonderful contribution CoderDojo and its volunteers are making for the children lucky enough to have this experience. I hope that when I grow up, I will be able to make similar contributions to less-fortunate people.

As the tagline from IBM states, “Smarter Planet” – let’s make our planet smarter, for us and for future generations.

I just added one of the games I coded at CoderDojo to my website at soundisimore.com. Please check it out. I hope you like it.

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