Dublin Science Gallery – End of Year Dojo.

Dublin Science Gallery - End of Year Dojo.
 
At Dublin Science Gallery Coderdojo we decided to do something special for our last dojo of the year, on December 14th.  We decided on a bigger than normal dojo and a science-fair like showcase of work done during the year.  The plans just kind of came together, based on what people wanted to do once Derek put the idea out there.  There were a couple of conversations at the dojos about it and then e-mails between people who'd volunteered to make it work.  That's all it took.  Most of the preparation happened in dojo time in the run up to it.  Any other way, we probably wouldn't have had the time and energy.
 
We needed photo/video permission forms, tables to show work at, confirmation of availability of space – all the space that the Science Gallery could give us – and confirmation we could use the AV equipment that the Science Gallery has.  Although we groan when Science Gallery have to oust us for a paying client, there are many compensating positives to the location.  There are gallery staff on site – it's a modern centrally located building – there are two working projectors and two large TV screens if we ask in advance.  Nowadays we don't even have to bring power strips with us as the Science Gallery organise and provide this for us.  We know we are very fortunate to have this space.
 
In planning the last dojo of the year we got non-tech-mentor parents and children involved as much as possible.  The children did lots.  In the advanced group they were particularly enthusiastic to show what they had worked on.  They ran the science fair.
 
It was not, however, plain sailing.
 
Coming up to Christmas is when everyone is at their busiest.  That's particularly so for mentors.  A doodle poll showed we had worryingly few mentors for the extra large beginners session we had planned.  For space reasons we were using the lecture theatre, which compounds things further.  The unmovable rigid lines of seating inhibit children moving around to help each other and make it harder for mentors to get to where attention is needed.  It's why we don't normally use the lecture theatre in our regular dojos.  The room's structure automatically makes it more a lecture, less a dojo.
 
To get around the mentor shortage for the biggest section of the dojo we made a collection of tip and topic cards to hand out as needed.  The children helped: "You need one for the difference between 'if' and 'if-else' ", These cards save a tremendous amount of mentor time on things that are seen many times over.  Cards are particularly useful at the beginning.  They also counteract the lecture format, the everyone-must-do-the-same-thing problem.  
 
A surprise was that loads of children who come regularly and who were actually pretty advanced in Scratch came to the complete beginners session too.  I didn't expect that.  Although they didn't move around and help as much as in the studios, they did help their neighbours, and that was brilliant.  
 
We more than survived.
 
Meanwhile upstairs Peter Redmond and Derek were mentoring the robotics.  We've been very fortunate to have Peter of Mechatrons come in with six of his robot buggies and guide the children over a series of dojos through path followers, light seeking, maze solving.  This was the last in the series.  He'll be focusing on the BT Young Scientist 'World of Robotics' and then visiting other dojos in 2014.   We hope he'll visit us when he can to see how we are doing.  Robots have brought the children together as teams far more than almost anything else we have done in the dojo.  It's actually good to have more children than robots as the shared challenge and the shortage of robots promotes collaboration. 
 
Dublin Science Gallery - End of Year Dojo.
 
At the same time as the robots another mentor, Robert, taught some javascript to some ninjas who wanted a more conventional web development lesson.  In this case a big difference to a normal classroom is that these ninjas had been teaching themselves javascript in their own time using web resources, and they wanted someone to take them a bit further.  Robert has his leaving cert in 2014, so we'll be missing this stream from next year.
 
These streams ran for two thirds of the dojo.  The last hour we had children showing their projects.  These included web-based control of a quadcopter, the robot work and a musical instrument made on Arduino.  As we're in the Science Gallery, we had a lot of visitors to Science Gallery dropping by, thinking at first it must be part of the Science Gallery exhibition.
 
For us an end of season dojo was a good thing to do.  A small win was that without disproportionate work it helped us mark the end of the year and finish the year on a high.  The big win for us was that it has involved the children more in making the dojo work.
 
It was well worth doing.  Here's to the children becoming more involved in helping the dojo work well in 2014.
 
Best wishes from Science Gallery Coderdojo to all other dojos for Christmas and the New Year.  
 
–James.
[Mentor at Science Gallery Dojo]

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