As a mentor it is great fun to notice the different learning styles. It is a challenge to adapt to them.
In Dublin we have children who are fanatic gamers. Minecraft is by far the most popular game. The idea of getting behind the games and modifying the Java source code is like catnip to them. They don't care how difficult that road might get. In fact, if it is challenging so much the better. Using youTube videos they have been teaching themselves with very little help from mentors. It is like an extra super dooper level to the game. These kids have a glimmering awareness that they are at level zero of a whole new game that takes in graphic design, game psychology and challenging mathematics. I think they will be delighted by what they learn as they get deeper into modding Minecraft. For anyone interested in talking with me about it, I want to share how we've enabled that, through Eugene Eichelberger setting up halla mor and through careful preparation for mentoring.
In Dublin we have children who work well in projects, SEN children with no normal social interaction, children who want the music and the choice of character in their Scratch animations exactly right - the programming is not important to them. We have children making and solving hard mazes and puzzles. We have budding entrepreneurs still searching for their first commercially viable idea. I want to hear what is happening in other dojos.
One piece of advice from professional teachers is to put diverse people together on some projects so that the different learning styles complement each other, so that the groups achieve more than any one person can on their own.
It has struck me that CoderDojo is rather like that too. There is huge diversity in the dojos and in the ways the dojos are learning to dojo.
What am I really Talking about?
So, now to the real meat of this post, which is a shameless plug to be there and talk with other people at the Coderdojo conference on 13th October.
I am not organising it and so have none of the worries of making sure it is a good conference. I am very very glad Eugene McDonough and others are doing the hard work to make it happen and bring people together in Limerick LIT. I am looking forward to the conference and to understanding the different styles of dojoing.
I of course go to it with my own agenda(s), my own pet projects. I want to meet people and talk about...
A 'Mentor-Press-Association' for resources produced by CoderDojo - starting with Scratch and BYOB lesson plans. The idea is to offer an editorial review and 'finishing' process. The idea is to have two brands, one 'rough diamonds' for work in progress, one 'Coderdojo Gems' for material that is polished, has been properly trialled in more than one dojo, and that has commentary in it based on actual experience in those dojos. I can ask Elfie who did the graphic recording for the teacher-mentor workshop to design the logos.
Nomad Mentors who move between dojos and see how things happen in different dojos. It's easy and happens in Dublin because we have four dojos geographically close together. I'd like to see it become a norm of CoderDojo that it happens, that sometime a Clonakilty dojoer visits and is a helper mentors in Cavan that sometime a Dublin mentor visits and is a helper mentors in Birr. It seems to me the fastest way to share the good ideas and knowledge -seeing at first hand. It's already happening a little, but it could be facilitated to happen more.
CPD (Continuous Professional Development). We have techies who have no formal teaching background. We have teachers who would love to have more IT knowledge. We're all volunteers. It is rewarding teaching kids... but... it would be even better if there was something tangible gained by doing it. More mentors would stick around. There is zero financial reward and that is most unlikely to ever change. An obvious reason to stick with it as a mentor, with no money changing hands, is if we are gaining skills and having fun doing it. That reason is the same reason we want the kids to have for coming back to CoderDojo. So - I want to talk about fun creative ways to do professional development and have that available for mentors who want it, for mentors who want to improve their craft. And I want these to be ways that are fully funded, so that as mentors participating in CPD the cost to us is just the time we make for it.
These are all things that involve more than one dojo, or more than the sum of the dojos in one small area. They are all things where a case can be made for some central, some coordinating organising. We can of course run CoderDojos as if they are isolated computer clubs, with no connection between them. We can do more, and with less work overall if we network.
The National Conference makes it possible to use the network effect, to have the human face to face discussions that make CoderDojo more than just a computer club with a fancy name. If you want your dojo to benefit from the network effect, be there, and talk about what you care about. It's the best way to make it happen.