How to run your own ‘meet and code’ day
With ‘Meet and Code’ grant applications now open, Christina Watson, UK Youth, shares her tips and advice from running one of the UK’s widest-reaching coding programmes for young people.
Just this month, Tech Trust announced a new partnership with charitable initiative Meet and Code providing grants for youth-based charities to produce their own event or activity day inspiring young people to get into programming.
With funding applications now open, we wanted to get a flavour of some of the coding clubs out there already being run by youth organisations, with some tips and inspiration for those thinking of kicking off their own.
We spoke to Christina Watson, Head of Programmes at UK Youth, about the organisation’s great success in delivering the Generation Code programme and what she’s learnt about coding sessions for young people.
Charity Digital News: What is Generation Code?
Christina Watson: Generation Code is a programme run by UK Youth in partnership with Microsoft. UK Youth is a leading national charity with a network of member youth organisations across the UK reaching over a million young people. Since the programme began in 2016 we’ve engaged over 14,000 young people in over 50 regions of the UK, helping to provide young people with a chance to get creative with code and become digital makers.
Through the programme we have worked with tech experts to build an online platform with a suite of resources that have been collated from open source. We co-created the programme with young people and youth workers to ensure Generation Code meets the needs of all young people. Through our co-creation we were able to identify session themes to better engage a range of young people – so whether a young person is into music, fashion or cooking, there’s a computer science activity that fits to their interests.
CDN: Who runs the sessions?
CW: Local sessions are co-delivered by youth workers and Code Champions (young people aged between 16-25.) Code Champions could be young people who are volunteering in their youth club or they could be local young tech specialists, for example we’ve had apprentices or junior members of staff at tech companies in the local area come in and volunteer.
UK Youth has also partnered with STEM Learning and Code Club to offer youth workers more access to a network of tech experts to support sessions – these volunteers can often also talk to young people about employment options and technology in the workplace, bringing to life the incentive to improve their digital skills.
CDN: Why is coding such an important skill for young people to have?
CW: We’re typically working with young people who may be less likely to engage with this type of activity – 77% of the young people on a UK Youth programme face at least one barrier to progression and over half come from some of the most deprived areas of the UK.
Generation Code is not about getting people to a particular level of achievement but we are aiming to spark that interest and get people who never considered computer science to have a go. We want to change the stereotypes of computer science so it’s perceived as something anyone can do. Everything we consume, every app and website we use, somebody has built that.
Computer science is just as important as the other sciences. It’s about understanding the way the world around us works – the world is also a digital place now, and there is a need for young people to know at least a little bit about how it works.
CDN: For organisations looking to run their own ‘meet and code’ events, what should they think about first?
CW: The first thing to look at it is what resources and tech they have. Don’t be put off by a lack of your own technology as a limiting factor – you can think creatively about where devices might come from, use a library space or team up with a local school, community centre or youth organisation.
Also, don’t worry if you don’t know how to code yourselves. You don’t really need more than the basics to run the sort of stuff we’re talking about and there are so many online tutorials to help you get to grips with the basics. It’s also about saying, ‘if I don’t feel confident is there someone in my community who does?’
CDN: Where can charities find resources?
CW: Try to find local technical support – there are thousands of local tech businesses. They might want to come and volunteer or bring in laptops, there might be a local teacher or another STEM Ambassador keen to come in. Or look to your more-tech savvy young people and youth workers – it’s all about knowing what different people can bring to the table.
There’s also a ton of fantastic resources out there, like Microsoft’s Make Code website with lots of fun tutorials, and the BBC Micro:bit Foundation. We’re very lucky that they donated 5,000 micro:bit devices to us for the programme, but they’re also not super expensive to buy – about £12 each. They come with lots of online instructions, guides and downloadable scripts, and you don’t have to start coding straight away, you can start with blockwork where you just drag and drop the bits they they snap together so it teaches the basic principles.
CDN: What’s the key to getting young people into coding?
CW: For a lot of young people coding is challenging because they just see the code but don’t necessarily see what it does. With something like the BBC Micro:bit it’s really tangible – you put something in and then it gives you instant feedback, like lighting up or making a sound, which is really satisfying. It’s also about coming up with a challenge and a reason to code – not just coding for coding’s sake. You give them a real life tangible problem and then challenge them to use tech to solve it.
Look at the clubs you’re already running and yourself how you can bring tech into it, whether it’s craft, music, citizenship, anything. You can make it really fun, competitive, and everyone, including the staff learns something in a fun environment and they have a go together.
Particularly when you’re looking at engaging girls, you might want to bring coding into things they’re already making and designing, get them to do the making first, for instance designing a milk carton robot, then once they’re hooked get them to code the Micro:bit and make it move and start to interact.
We recently had a session using music, where the young people were coding and making digital sounds, basically DJing. It was simple, accessible and really energising – they were loving it, comparing each other’s beats and compositions, and it’s something you can do really quickly, you put some code in and a sound comes out. So it’s about asking – how can I bring technology into what we’re already doing and enhance that? That’s what we’ve found to be the best route in.