Saturday morning, just past ten. The doors to the library on ‘s-Gravelandseweg are still closed, but in the computer room fifteen children are busy with screens, keyboards and driving robots: the monthly CoderDojo. The name of these workshops, which are held across the country, is a portmanteau of coding and dojo. CoderDojo introduces children to programming. So with websites, games, apps or robots.
Juna has started working with the popular Scratch, a (free) programming language that allows you to create interactive animations, games, music and artwork. On one side of the screen there is already a polar landscape, on the other a series of blocks with which you give instructions to the characters in the game. The penguin, she added, is still there, but the fox has suddenly disappeared. Her father makes an attempt to bring the escaped animal back.
Jesse van Elteren is one of the volunteer mentors who lends a helping hand to the participants in the workshops. “Scratch is very well-known,” says Hilversummer, a data specialist at the network operator Tennet, on a daily basis. ,,This is an intermediate form between Scratch junior, which works with blocks without text and is suitable for children from 4 years of age, and programming with Python, which only has text.
His daughter, meanwhile, has already continued with the story she made up. “Dad, how do you spell polar bear in English?” she wants to know. After the penguin is joined by the ‘polar bear’, she places text balloons near the animals. ‘Shall we play together?’, suggests one. “Come on,” replies the other.
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This is the second time Juna has participated in a workshop. “I like it,” says the student from the Montessori School-Zuid. She points to the screen. “I came up with this myself. I already did that witch thing last time. We also have Scratch at home.” The one with the witch is the popular Scratch game Spooky, where a witch flying on a broomstick tries to catch a bat. As they play, children learn the basics of programming: backgrounds, ‘sprites’, movements and scenarios.
When her father says that programming is his hobby, Juna will say that her real hobby is gymnastics. “It skipped a generation,” her father says. Juna: “My grandfather was a Dutch champion.” No, her grandfather didn’t tell her to play that sport either. “But when I went to gymnastics, he gave me tips just like my grandmother.” Juna is now in the selection of the Hilversum gymnastics association GTV.
Next to her is 9-year-old Robin Payne, also from Montessori South, working on Spooky Scratch. His father Michael is present for advice and assistance. “It’s good for children to learn to program,” he explains in English. “It’s a way of thinking. Logical thinking, problem solving. And there is an increasing demand for programmers.” The Brit works with cyber security. “That’s why I like it so much,” he laughs. “Everything has to do with ICT these days: you have to understand how it works.”
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Mirjam Röling is the driving force behind CoderDojos, “We have room for 25 children, and most of the time we are completely full”, she says. “Now they almost all choose Scratch, but we also have all kinds of robots that they can program, for example.”
The workshops are open to young people aged 7 to 17, but most visitors come from the youngest age group. “Also a couple of 11 or 12 year olds. And sometimes some teenagers, but they don’t feel at home with all the little kids around them.”
Röling is happy with his card catalog of around twenty volunteer mentors. “But if a parent stays to help, that saves us, too.” She also emphasizes the importance of learning to program in an accessible way. “It’s about logical thinking and computer skills. Unfortunately, there is little time and attention for this in school.”