Hello and Welcome!

These are challenging times but we are glad you have found your way here! CoderDojo NOVA was created with the intention of providing a way to give access to learning about technology and coding to any children who wanted it. We wanted to eliminate any and all barriers to entry.

Since we can’t meet in person, we’ve adapted our approach. If you are new to the Dojo this might all seem strange. So this overview is an attempt to explain what CoderDojo is and why we do things the way we do them. And even if you are a Dojo veteran, this overview explains some of the new ways we have to operate the Dojo in an age of social distancing.

First of all I will reiterate a little bit from the About section of this website. CoderDojo NOVA is a local chapter of the parent organization – CoderDojo. We adhere to their philosophy which means you should think of the Dojo more like a club than a school. We foster independent, self-guided learning as well as peer mentoring. This is different in many regards to the your child’s school environment.

At the Dojo we want to teach soft skills experientially. The ability to communicate, work in a team, problem solve, be a leader all are skills that can be exercised at the Dojo. It is more challenging now when we can’t meet in person. But it does emphasize the need to be able to adapt (another soft skill) and develop a work ethic to work on a problem without your school teacher pushing you on.

So how are we trying to run a virtual dojo? Every other week, we put out a recommended “Workout” on the Katas section of our website. On the Workout for the session, we provide an overview of the projects for the day. Our lead mentor has even managed to record some screencasts going over the days recommended projects. Projects are generally broken down for the beginners and for more advanced coders. Often the advanced work is much more open ended with a requirement that the coder do more leg work to investigate topics.

We start beginners on the Scratch programming language developed at MIT. It is an ideal language for a number of reasons. It is great for coders who aren’t great typists. It has a graphical block interface to create code. But at the same time it is not a toy language. It is feature rich and can do most of what a lot of other languages can do. And the setup cost is essentially nothing since it has a simple web interface (but you can download a local copy if that works better for your situation).

The beginners follow a wonderful resource called Creative Computing created by the Creative Computing Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The curriculum fosters creativity and problem solving through a series of open ended projects all freely available online. Based on their Scratch experience coders should proceed on one of three paths. The very beginner should work through the tutorials in Scratch as described in Workout #1. Coder’s who have Scratched before should feel free to get started with the Creative Computing projects. We start those in Workout #2. Experienced Scratchers can be more selective of which projects they want to work on but experience should mean you can do much more elaborate versions of these projects. It shouldn’t mean that you finish it in 5 minutes! Take your time and stretch yourself. Following the suggestions for how to go further.

Advanced coders are limited only by their imagination. The mentors at the Dojo have a wealth of experience and can support many different interests. We provide basic direction to suggest learning paths based on topics coders express an interest in. Historically coders have explored other languages like Python and JavaScript. They’ve looked at hardware platforms like arduinos and the Circuit Playground Express. We’ve also looked at simple robots like mBots. Advanced coders are much more in charge of their coding destiny and much more of the responsibility is on them to find a topic of interest and pursue it (with mentor and peer help)! Workout #1 gives a jumping off point for many different technologies and coding languages. Workout #5 adds to the list. Have fun and good luck!

In pandemic times, we have started to use the Zoom conferencing interface to answer questions. As always we can still help during non-dojo hours through email. You can reach us at CoderDojoNOVA@gmail.com.

We hope this explains how we are running the Dojo in the upside down (Stranger Things reference. Go watch it on Netflix.) Questions? Drop us an email. Stay safe. Stay 6ft apart. Wash your hands. And write lots of code!