[cross posted from my CACM bog]
There is a buzz inside the Coder Dojo. The kids have been coding html 5 for the last 40 minutes and are testing their first web pages in Chrome. Some of them are showing off their geeky prowess by introducing font tags with colour values in hex. Others are clearly bursting to point out the mentor’s missing “</p>”. The lead mentor, who looks like a small boy from the ‘50s in his fair isle jumper and dark rimmed specs, starts a lively debate about the relative merits of different browsers, teasing Opera users for their poor taste. In the next hour or so, the kids learn how to apply a simple css style sheet. The web is their oyster. “Who wants to come back to Coder Dojo Edinburgh?” asks the mentor. The air bristles with hands. Witnessing this, I am drawn in. I find myself volunteering to help run the sessions in Edinburgh despite the million other things I need to do. The passion and enthusiasm of the mentors is infectious.
This Coder Dojo session was held inside the Scottish Parliament and was sponsored by two members of parliament. It was attended by various guests from industry, government, education and of course by local young people. It was a very high profile way of highlighting how important computer science is to this country’s economy. Initially I wondered how Craig Steele, the founder of Coder Dojo in Scotland pulled this off. But after chatting with him for a bit I realised how. He – like the other Coder Dojo mentors – just go for it. They see kids who are desperate to learn how to program, they see young computer scientists who love to share their passion and they put the two together. No learning outcomes. No syllabus. No assessment. No underestimation of children’s ability. No red tape. Just learning. It feels liberating.
“There is only one rule of the Coder Dojo” says Lindsay Macvean earnestly. “Be cool”. Their charter, I learn, is free open learning through peer instruction. In the dojo, as in martial arts, everyone is a learner and a teacher. In Lindsay’s dojo in Cork, Ireland, you might find a 9 year old teaching his friends Ajax, while an eleven year old rebuilds a PC in the corner. One of his new recruits recently released an app which became the bestselling game on the App Store in Ireland. Although the idea began in Ireland, it has spread quickly. There are coder dojos held in the Microsoft HQ, Twitter, and McAfee. There are 70 dojos in Ireland, and around 150 worldwide from St Petersburg to Tokyo. All are run by volunteers, students, recent graduates, established software developers, or anyone else with a love of coding and a little bit of time to donate.
If you’d like to get involved, visit http://coderdojo.com/dojos/ and see if there is a dojo near you. If not, why not start one? All you need is a venue, some mentors and some kids.