Hometown Heroes: 'Helping kids to code is teaching them a vital skill for the modern world'

Hometown Heroes: 'Helping kids to code is teaching them a vital skill for the modern world'

Kinsale Coderdojo mentor Anthony Nolan, from Ballinspittle.

A tech expert teaching the next generation about coding, Anthony Nolan talks to Roisin Burke about how Kinsale Coderdojo are navigating the pandemic online

WITH the world’s reliance on technology growing daily, volunteer-led computer programming clubs called Coderdojo have become important ways for young people to learn essential skills.

Kinsale Coderdojo mentor Anthony Nolan (32) has been involved with the club for the past three years, teaching and helping youths between the ages 7 to 17 to code.

Speaking about the importance of the education of Coderdojo pupils, called Ninjas, Anthony said it is huge.

“Technology is massive now, in the same way I learned Microsoft word and excel in secondary school, coding is the new microsoft word. You should have some idea about how it all works. Our phones and computers have gotten so smart now, you should have some idea of how it works in the background.”

Anthony, who is from Ballinaspittle, works in Tech support in Limerick for the past three years and said getting involved in Coderdojo had a number of benefits for him as a volunteer.

Kinsale Coderdojo mentor Anthony Nolan, from Ballinspittle.
Kinsale Coderdojo mentor Anthony Nolan, from Ballinspittle.

“I find that when I am working on projects alone, often I wouldn’t fully complete it, but when you are doing something for your community, you have an extra motivation to keep going and to see it through to the end.”

The tech expert began coding in university where he was studying electrical engineering. “The course was more based on hardware but I tilted towards software. I spent a lot of time on software coding and my final year project was a multi-level permission controls for smart tech, such as smart lights.”

Explaining a handy use for his creation, Anthony said: “Imagine you were living in student accommodation and someone comes home drunk at 3am, you don’t want them to have control of your bedroom lights!”

Since March 2020, the Kinsale Coderdojo weekly classes have been held online; something Anthony said has changed the dynamic of the workshops.

“When the pandemic hit, as tech-heads we wanted to lead the charge in getting online, we tried a number of platforms with the kids before settling on Microsoft Teams. Our main priority was something safe and user-friendly.”

Anthony said they found the online classes worked even better than the workshops they used to hold in Kinsale Community School where they were based before the pandemic.

“Instead of working on something in the class, the Ninjas now present work that they have done during the week.”

Anthony said the club has a ‘ask three then me’ rule which means Ninjas should ask two other ninjas and do a Google search before bringing asking a mentor, but with online forums within Teams, Anthony found that the kids are now answering each other’s questions without the help of the mentors.

“It’s becoming self-sustaining, the mentors are becoming redundant!” Anthony joked.

While the productivity of the sessions has definitely been enhanced, Anthony said all the ninjas and mentors can’t wait to get back to the classroom.

“Everyone wants to get back to the classroom, we all want normality. We have learned from what we have done over the 12 months but we are ready to go back when possible.”

In order to create an element of interaction and enhance engagement within the Team meetings with Ninjas, Anthony programmed a bot to allow the Ninja’s to be able to turn off and on his office lights by messaging into the Teams chat.

“I wanted to give the kids a way to feel like they had an effect on their surroundings. Then I got coloured lights and they were able to change the colours as well. I used it to teach them about API requests, through chatting to the bot, they were sending requests to my computer. It worked really well.”

Chatting about the type of people who end up mentoring in Coderdojo, Anthony said a lot of the time, Ninjas that turn 17/18 and want to continue with the organisation become mentors and Ninja parents also end up becoming mentors.

“If a Ninja is under 12, a parent must stay with them throughout the class and then they find themselves getting involved and then signing up as a mentor.”

Offering advice to anyone who might be interested in getting involved in Coderdojo, Anthony said his number one tip was to get in touch with your local club and see what it is like.

“You don’t have to be tech-minded to be in Coderdojo,” Anthony assured, “There is great information on the main Coderdojo website.”

Anthony also said Kinsale Coderdojo wouldn’t be possible without a lot of help from the local community such as Kinsale Community School for allowing them to use the school as their base and the Kinsale Chamber of Commerce for their investment.

Anthony said the club was very grateful for the assistance. “We realise the importance of community involvement at this time more than ever and the help will have a beneficial impact on our Ninjas”

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